For photos from the Meadowlands contact

Friday, October 31, 2014

Meadowlands Takes a Stand For the Bettors

The Meadowlands is taking a stand for the bettors and it is sure to upset some owners and trainers (mainly the large ones).  Effective with the early and late closing series for the 2014-15 meet, the Meadowlands is adding a condition to limit the number of horses a trainer may enter into a final.  

Specifically, the condition being added is:

"No trainer may race more than two horses in this race. This does not apply to any horses raced in a trainer's stable from the first charted race of the horse’s career. Any trainer change that applies to the spirit of this condition must be made a minimum of 30 days in advance of the race date to be considered valid for the purpose of this race."

This means, with the exception of horses which have been in a trainer's stable from day 1 of its racing career, a trainer may only have two horses in a race whether or not it is coupled or not.  A trainer may still enter as many horses as they wish in the preliminary legs, but they will have to pick and choose which two they will race in the final.  There will be no selling of a horse or trainer change during the series for the horse must have been transferred to a bona fide new trainer before the series starts to count as a horse coming from a different trainer.

It will be interesting to see how this works out come nomination and sustaining payment time.  There is a possibility of fewer horses being nominated to a series as a trainer with a large stable may only nominate one or two instead of five as in the past but on the other hand, trainers who hadn't entered because they figured with certain trainers starting multiple horses they would never get into the final or fear there was no chance of earning purse money which may stimulate entries.

Some trainers should be happy as more of them should be getting some good horses instead of all the good horses going to two or three trainers. The gamblers will be happy because with less horses coming from one or two trainers, the chance (or perception) of team driving is reduced.

How bad were some gamblers feeling about this?  It turns out we had this discussion in a racing group I belong to yesterday and the following came from Gil Winston who graciously has permitted me to use the following:

The Burke Olympics

The Burke "mastery" of harness racing is one of the growing problems adding to the downfall of the sport.  In tomorrow's $211k Hoosier Park Pacing Derby AND in the $275k The Monument Circle, Burke has 5 horses in each race.  In the Hoosier Park Pacing Derby he is an owner on all 5 entries while in The Monument Circle he is listed as owner on 3 of the entries. 

Are there "coupled entries" in either race due to same ownership?   No. No more coupled entries for Burke-owned horses. The 'bonafide separate ownership' line that used to excuse entries from the same barn is his-to-ree.  Now it just says, "No coupled entries."  As Burke sw allows up other trainers and owners, the number of betting entries would diminish to miniscule numbers if his horses were to occupy one betting interest.  Soon we may see races solely between Burke and Takter.  Other horsemen can play with their cheap claimers and leave the 'real' horsemen to handle all the money ('real' meaning stables like Burke and Takter, no suggestion of underhanded training methods intended)

Note:  Either Burke or Takter or both have multiple entries in each of the 6 stakes races.

One thing is for sure.  Rightly or wrongly, losing bettors will blame their losses on the Burkes for controlling the race whatever the result may be. Now one can get on one's high horse (so to speak) and PROVE that these IDIOTS would not know a horse race from a cockroach race.  But these IDIOTS are customers who surely will become more of the ex-customers who leave the track vowing to never return. As opposed to the old days, when gamblers had no other place to go to gamble, they sure do now.

Certain trainers who won't get as many top level horses won't like it, but in the long run, a rule like this may be the best thing which can happen for racing, though I expect to hear a lot of kicking and screaming from some industry participants.

As to my own personal feeling as a fan and recreational gambler?  It irks me when you have a trainer that dominates as much as Ron Burke, Jimmy Takter, and others do in the big races.  I realize these horsemen have worked hard and know what they are doing but while they are being successful, other trainers who are more than competent are being shut out because these partnerships gravitate to these trainers.  

It's not good for the industry on a whole to have a few trainers control the vast majority of horses who race in these big events.  Again, these trainers have done nothing wrong but could you imagine what it would be like if at a track like Santa Anita, if stake races were overflowing with three horses from Jerry Hollendorfer and Bob Baffert seemingly in every stake?  As Gil indicated above, the public doesn't like it..

A big part of the problem is how so many of the top horses are seemingly controlled by the same group of owners in one flavor or another (basically the partnerships are similar with one or two players substituted in and out) but the problem also is due to the dearth of stake races available.  When you have one high value stake race for three year old pacers at one track, of course the trainers are going to fire all their bullets in the one race.  If we had more than one high value stake race on the same day, the trainer may spread his horses out to race at the tracks instead of all at one.  No one is saying they all have to be 'Group 1' races; there could be a Group 1 and Group 2 event on the same weekend, but with sufficient purses, trainers may go gunning for both races.

The Cane Pace and the Shady Daisy are on the move once again, leaving Tioga Downs for the Meadowlands where they will be raced on Hambletonian Day this coming August.  In addition to these stakes, the Meadowlands will debut a sister race to the John Cashman Memorial, again racing on the first Saturday in August.  This will make Hambleotnian Day an even bigger event; truly a Super Bowl of harness racing.  One interesting thing with the move of these races is their conditions are being changed to eliminate elimination races; they will be a single race for the cash.  While not yet announced, I suspect the top 10 money earning horses will get into the race with consolation races being contested, possibly on a different day.

A Victory for Justice; A Reality Check

Before anyone gets too excited about the conviction of Canadian trainer Derick Riesberry on fraud charges (actually a reversal of an erroneous 'not guilty' verdict) by a Canadian appeals court and an order for him to stand trial again on two charges of  'cheating at play'.  Enjoy your moment if you think more cases should be sent to the criminal court system instead of the racing commission because the truth is it isn't going to happen,

Riseberry was an aberration, he was caught on tape injecting a horse with an illegal substance.  Most cases are adjudicated via the Trainer Responsibility Rule, which indicates a trainer is responsible for a horse regardless of who may drug the horse.  The standard for sanctions is much lower; the mere presence of an illegal or restricted substance in the horse's blood is prima facie evidence of a violation of the Trainer Responsibility Rule, it doesn't indicate who injected or medicated the horse.  Without testimony of others or being caught on camera, the medication may have been administered by a groom, a vet, someone walking in who should not have been there, or anybody.  The assumption may be the trainer was involved, but it is not proven.  Certainly not to the standard which could convict someone of criminal behavior.

It would be nice to have video cameras all over the paddock as if we were in a society described in "1984", but the fact is it would be cost prohibitive to have such a system in place along with the necessary monitoring and even then, it may be ineffectual when it comes to bringing an alleged cheating incident into the arena of the criminal justice system.  Alas, almost all medication violations will continue to be treated the old fashion way, through disposition by the various racing commissions.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Sebastian K Returning to the Racing Wars at Nine

It has been confirmed that Sebastian K will be returning next year to race.  The return of Sebastian K is good news for harness racing.  Also good news is instead of the earlier reports that his season would be over if he is returning next year, Sebastian K will race again this year.

The bad news is, as expected, the eight year old trotter will not be supplementing to race in the Breeders Crown and engage in battle with Commander Crowe.  Considering he hasn't been sharp, it makes sense not to pay the $62,500 supplemental fee required for the Open Trot before paying the $10,000 starting fee.  That is not a good investment.

However, Sebastian K's connections have their eye on the TVG Series Final at the Meadowlands.  As one of his connections mentioned, the TVG is a $500,000 race and bypassing the Crown gives them an extra two weeks to get him on top of his game again.

So it will be interesting to see if Sebastian K will race before the TVG Final to tighten up or will he replicate his North American debut when he came into his seasonal debut off a single qualifier.

A Whole Lot of Kicking and Screaming Going On

Yesterday, the Meadowlands released the list of trainers who are eligible for the rewards program where the reward is having preference to race in the B-2 or lower classes as well as the non-winners of 1, 2, 3, and 4 pari-mutuel races lifetime classes.  All other classes remain open equally for all trainers.  The trainers who qualified for the reward were:

Eric Abbatiello              Tony Alagna              Ronald Burke              Mark Capone
Ron Coyne Jr               Jonas Czernyson      Nikolas Drennan        Steve Elliott
Mark Ford                     Mark Harder              Joseph Holloway        Richard Johnson
Douglas Lewis              Joseph Martin           Julie Miller                   Larry Remmen
Christopher Ryder        Mark Silva                 Jeffrey Smith               Ake Svanstedt
Jimmy Takter                Linda Toscano

These were twp ways to qualify for the preference reward.  If you had more than 60 starts at the Meadowlands from March 28, 2014 thru the end of the meet or if you had at least 20 starts at the Meadowlands during the same period and you made more starts at the Meadowlands than all other tracks combined during the same timeframe, you qualified for the award.

If you are a trainer on the list, you are pleased.  If you are not on the list, you are probably kicking and screaming over being excluded from the rewards list, especially if you missed by a couple starts or are a small stable or a trainer who tried to serve two masters, Peter Koch at the Meadowlands and Karen Fagliarone at Freehold for both NJ racing secretaries often were asking trainers to enter horses, making trainers chose one track over the other and possibly costing themselves preference at the Meadowlands entry box this winter.

While no preference system based on the number of starts is completely fair as someone is always going to end up on the short end of the stick by a start or two, or some owners will change trainers to one who qualifies to play the system, this system is better than none.  After all, if you are a trainer who supported the Meadowlands during the period the Pennsylvania tracks were open, how would you feel being jammed at the entry box by the carpetbagger who raced in Pennsylvania all season long and decides to race in the winter at the Meadowlands when there are no other racing opportunities available, knowing they will abandon the Meadowlands once Pocono Downs and/or Harrah's reopens?  Something needed to be done to reward and protect the loyalists and this was seen to be the fairest way to go.

Before anyone criticizes management at the Meadowlands, this system was designed with input from the horsemen via the SBOANJ.  If people have complaints about this system, make sure they get their share of grief.

As I mentioned, there is no perfect system.  If I developed this preference system, being the small trainers support both Freehold and the Meadowlands; New Jersey tracks, I would have had the second condition exclude the starts made at Freehold from the "than all other tracks combined during the same timeframe" condition.

For those trainers afraid of being blocked from the entry box, it should be noted trainers like Jimmy Takter are not racing horses at the lower levels so some of these trainers may as well not be on the list.  Also, for those small trainers with green horses, the conditioned classes still have the added condition of New Jersey-sired affixed to them so that will reduce the influence of the trainer's preference (NJ sired horses will earn a 60% bonus in NJ sired preferred events).

The bottom line is those who supported the Meadowlands deserve to race this winter while those trainers who spent their season in Pennsylvania deserve to have little opportunity there.  You need to show love to get love back.  Now is the time to pay the bill.

Update:  Here is the Meadowlands press release regarding the NJ-sired bonus program.

The Breeders Crown has announced the tracks holding the Breeders Crown events through 2017.  While the Meadowlands will host the events in 2016, WEG returns to the circuit in 2015, after bypassing the Crown due to the uncertainty of the Ontario racing environment.  Perhaps more important than the return to WEG and the Meadowlands, is the addition of Hoosier Park to the rotation in 2017.  With the addition of Hoosier Park, the Crown will make its first visit to the mid-West in a long time.  Their addition to the rotation is welcome.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

How Are The Drivers Doing In Comparison To Last Year?

About 17% of the 2014 calendar remains, but this is not particularly rich territory for stakes money; the sire stakes programs have run dry and the Grand Circuit is winding down. Yes, there are more than a few stakes races in November but December is practically barren.

Some drivers have already earned more than they did last year, while others are falling short. The leading driver is Yannick Gingras, who has parlayed his first call affiliation with Ron Burke and Jimmy Takter into a substantial $3.9 million lead. As of this moment he has earned $13.7 million, which will be $14 million in no time. This is almost 97% of what his horses earned in 2013. By the weekend Gingras will have eclipsed that number.

Last year’s leading money winning driver, Tim Tetrick, is hurting—relatively speaking—from Gingra’s monopoly on the best drives. At this point Tetrick has earned 61% of what he did last year. Earning $6.2 million—the amount it would take to get back to last year’s level—between now and New Year’s Day would be a Herculean task. One must keep in mind that he missed several weeks at the start of the year when he had his hip replaced. Recent stakes wins with Burke’s Big Boy Dreams, Sayitall BB and Clear Vision may signal a shift to getting more drives for the Burke Barn in the future.

Brian Sears, who has done a masterful job balancing his regular gig at Yonkers with lucrative drives on the Grand Circuit, is in the same boat as Tetrick: Sears has earned 60% of what he did last year. He would need $5.4 million during the final two months of the year to get back to his 2013 total. Bee A Magician and Royalty For Life were a pair of money trees for him in 2013. As he closes in on 9,000 career wins, Sears is setting himself up for next year: Kelvin Harrison’s freshman pacer In The Arsenal should prove to be a lucrative mount for the White Knight in 2015.

Ron Pierce has benefited from driving Takter’s Shake It Cerry and Uncle Lasse and Burke’s Sweet Lou, but he is still close to 27% short of last year’s total, while David Miller, chauffeur of 2014 millionaire McWicked, is almost 34% short of his 2013 total. Burke and Takter have consumed so much of the oxygen that any driver who is not one of their regulars is suffering the consequences.

Brett Miller, who drives for both, and had the top sire stakes trotter Billy Flynn for Steffan Lind, has already earned 25% more than he did in all of 2013--$1.7 million. The other night he drove Not Afraid, Yoga and Lyonssomewhere for Takter in the stakes races at Yonkers. He has also earned lots of money with Burke’s Clear Vision. Brett is having a career year.

Matt Kakaley, another Burke regular, has earned 95% of last year’s $7.5 million total and will surely be well past it by season’s end. Matt won the $500,000 Messenger Saturday night with Burke’s All Bets Off. The winner of the 2010 Rising Star Award is still in his mid- twenties and has been a regular for Burke from Yonkers to Hoosier Downs to Pocono—wherever he is needed. Kakaley is number seven on the money list right now.

Chris Christoforou is another one having a terrific year; he’s already more than 25% ahead of last year’s earnings thanks in large part to his affiliation with Casie Coleman and her stable full of OSS stars by first crop stallion Sportswriter.

Aaron Merriman and Ronnie Wrenn Jr, both best known for their impressive dash winning totals, are making some serious money this year. Merriman, who leads the race for the dash title, is 13th overall on the money list and has already surpassed last year’s earnings by more than 25%. And Wrenn, who is second on the dash list, has already topped his 2013 bankroll by almost 28%. Winning lots of races is swell, but lots of money is better.

Younger drivers aren’t feeling the impact of Yannick cornering the market on dominant stakes horses the way the stars like Tim Tetrick, Sears, Pierce and David Miller are. The 21-year-old Buckeye Tyler Smith, who was the youngest driver to get to 1,000 wins, has already earned 91% of last year’s total and is assured another fine year.

Yonkers regular Jason Bartlett is 8th on the earnings list and is the leading driver at Yonkers Raceway—almost a million dollars ahead of second place Brian Sears.  Right now he’s within $50,000 of last year’s total, so he’s obviously having an excellent year. His colleague George Brennan is a couple of spots behind him on the overall money list and third at Yonkers. Brennan is still 28% short of what his stock earned in 2013.

James MacDonald, who missed three months due to injury last year, has almost doubled his earnings to this point in the season. He’s jumped from nowhere to the top 25.

Eric Carlson, who ranks fourth at Yonkers, is ten spots ahead of last year’s finish on the earnings list and his drives have already netted almost 15% more than he earned in all of 2013.

Trace Tetrick, the leading driver at Hoosier Park, who won three ISS Super Finals, with Color’s A Virgin, Churita and Freaky Feet Pete, has already topped last year’s earnings by almost 12% and has moved into the top 20. Winning the Allerage Trot with Creatine at The Red Mile was a major breakthrough for him. The infusion of casino dollars into purses in Ohio and Indiana is giving a boost to Midwestern drivers like Wrenn, Trace Tetrick and Tyler Smith.

Nuncio’s million dollar bankroll has lifted John Campbell 14% above what he earned in all of last year. And Scott Zeron has solidified his role as a regular in the Northeast as well as on the Grand Circuit. His alliance with Tony Alagna, which has led to drives on the likes of Artspeak, has raised his profile considerably. Zeron is already 3% ahead of what he earned in 2013.

Jim Morrill led the NYSS once again, but Yannick grabbed some of the high dollar Burke action and Morrill is at 68% of last year’s total. Mark MacDonald, who was number two in the NYSS, is at about 80% of last year’s total, which is very good considering that he missed time at the beginning of the season after a surgical procedure.

So, while Gingras is hoarding the frosting on top of the cake, a number of journeyman drivers like Brett Miller and younger ones like Tyler Smith are having outstanding years.

Joe FitzGerald

Monday, October 27, 2014

Ontario Introducing Sirens; What About Everyone Else?

As a result of a mishap at Flamboro Downs which resulted in a head-on collision of two horses after an accident, the Ontario Racing Commission (ORC) has ordered all tracks to have installed by January 1, 2015 a system using warning lights and a siren to be used in the event of an emergency which requires drivers to proceed with caution or to stop the race.  The rule takes effect once the equipment is installed.

While this rule only effects the Ontario racetracks, it should become the standard throughout Canada and the United States.  For American tracks, it should only require the installation of a siren as they are required to have warning lights around the track already which are to go on whenever there is an accident or a horse gets loose on the track.  We know tracks hate to refund wagers on a wholesale basis and horsemen hate to lose the opportunity to earn purse money, but that should not trump the health and safety of racing participants, both drivers and horses.  If that is not incentive enough, the last thing you want is coverage of another head-on collision; something which would give ammunition to those opposed to horse racing.

Horsemen associations can negotiate in their next contract a provision which calls for purse money to be split evenly among all horses which were still competitive when the race was stopped if the loss of purse money is an issue.  We can adopt the rule used in some European countries which calls for the remaining horses to return later on the card to contest the race if less than half the race was contested when it was stopped; that should satisfy those worried about refunding wagers for a race declared 'no contest'.

Of course, the question is will racing commissions become proactive in the other provinces and states to adopt either the ORC rule or a modified version which allows for a race to be restarted?  That remains to be seen.  But it shouldn't have to depend on commissions being proactive; horsemen and/or tracks should petition their commissions to enact some version of this rule and enact it using their emergency rule making powers instead of having to go through 6 months or more of review before they can approve it.  

It took a relatively high-profile accident to get Ontario to act.  It shouldn't require another such incident to happen before the rest of the industry follows their lead.  Now is the time to make this an industry-wide standard on both sides of the border.

Delaware Valley Harness Memories ...

by Peter Lawrence, VFTRG Contributor

Brandywine Raceway, located on Naamans Road in Wilmington, Delaware, and Liberty Bell Park, situated at the intersection of Knights and Woodhaven roads in Northeast Philadelphia, were once a strong sister-track circuit in what's called the Delaware Valley region.

Both tracks are long-gone now.

I saw more of Liberty Bell than Brandywine, having worked in the Bell's publicity department in 1980, but I have a few recollections of Brandywine, too.

Brandywine Raceway from the Backstretch (Photo credit unknown)

This photo of Brandywine appeared on my Facebook feed a few days ago, so I decided to tack a few comments onto it, and pass it along.

It may not have always been such, but I recall Brandywine as having the nicer summer race dates, while Liberty Bell had the autumn through spring dates.

The Bell may've been classy in its younger days in the 1960s and '70s, but it was pretty seedy when I worked there. In retrospect, ownership may have already planned its sale and was bailing out, essentially running the place into the ground. A shopping center called the Franklin Mills Mall - renamed the Philadelphia Mills Mall as of last month - stands there now.

(Similarly, many folks remember the former Roosevelt Raceway on Long Island as a palace, and it was, for a long time, but its own ownership ran it into the ground as well, and it, too, was a dump at the end, in 1988. But that's a whole other story.)

Brandywine was a jewel during most of its existence. I never knew a fellow named "Colonel" Dave Herman, the track's one-time PR director, but I did (and do) know Marv Bachrad, who was the PR guy there 'til the end, and he's a jewel himself. He operated out of a freestanding building near the grandstand, which I think was known as the hospitality cabin, and it was a great place for the press - and owners, I think - to get their respective racing evenings started and finished.

(Marv is the public relations chief at Dover Downs in Delaware now, and has been for many years.)
Brandywine also had a state-of-the-art in-house TV patrol system, and you could count on seeing interviews and such, from the paddock and such, during the course of the night's races.

Following that background introduction, here are three other vivid memories I still have of Brandywine ...
One, I've seen day/night stakes races at different tracks on the same day - Freehold and Yonkers, Freehold and Roosevelt, Freehold and Meadowlands, for instance - but one night, a Sunday many years ago, I was nutty enough to see them at two different venues on the same night. I started at Freestate Raceway in Maryland, watched several divisions of, maybe, the Hanover Stake (might've been something else), which were right at the start of the card, then scooted up to Brandywine for the Battle of the Brandywine eliminations, which were late on the card up there.

(Oh, another day/night "degenerate double," a two-breed stakes double, I did was in 1985, the Preakness at Pimlico, and an early-season start for Nihilator at Freestate.)

Two, I've owned a few standardbreds in my time (none lately), and one was a stakes-winner, a B.G.'s Bunny pacing filly named Tri State's Baby, co-owned with my folks, my long-time friend Rob Goldstein, and several other people. She won any number of New Jersey Sire Stakes, including several at the Meadowlands, which was a big thrill, plus a Grand Circuit-type event, the Pocahontas, at, you guessed it, Brandywine, in 1984.

That was really cool.

And lastly, I don't remember the year Brandywine was knocked down, but whenever it was, I happened to be nearby, visiting relatives, and I stopped by the shuttered track, only to discover that it had already been demolished. I wish I still had the photo I took of what I saw that day, but I can describe it.
As seen from the lower turn, the top levels of the former grandstand (or technically, the clubhouse, I guess) pancaked straight down on the lower levels, as you might expect. But something I didn't expect to see was also the case.

The press box windows were still completely intact, not shattered, or even cracked. Same with several of the giant finish-line spotlights. It was almost as though the old lady didn't want to go down without a fight.

But I assume the demolition crew probably returned in a day or two and completed the job with sledgehammers or something.

Oh, well.


Sunday, October 26, 2014

Trotter/Horse of the Year Slipping Away?

After last night's miscue in the Yonkers International Preview, Sebastian K and his team are now at the cross roads.  While he may still win the Aged Trotter of the Year award, what was once a stroll towards his coronation as Trotter of the Year and possibly Horse of the Year is now questionable.

True, Sebastian K is not the first champion horse to be done in by those turns, but when you consider this was his third straight loss you have to wonder if going off stride was more than a half mile mishap; it is clear the champion trotter has lost his edge.  While the Swedish ex-pat dominated the first half of the racing season, he has been mortal as summer has rolled into fall.  Can you become Trotter/Horse of the Year based on early season success alone?  I don't think so.

Which brings Sebastian K's team to an interesting dilemma.  As reported by HRU, Ake Svendstadt is talking to the owners of Sebastian K regarding future plans for the 8 year old trotter.  If the decision is to come back as a 9 year old, it would appear we have seen the last of Sebastian K in 2014.  If they decide this is the last year of his racing, then Svanstedt will be willing to keep racing and finish the  trotter's career in the 2014 Breeders Crown.  A win in the Breeders Crown will put Sebastian K into contention for Trotter and Horse of the year, a defeat may make him more of an interesting footnote in American trotting.

Of course, there is more riding on the decision.  A Commander Crowe/Sebastian K battle in the Breeders Crown will make the Breeders Crown Open Trot THE match up of night two; the defection of either trotter will transform the race into just another stake race.  We should know more in the next couple of days.

Let's not take anything away from Natural Herbie, the Preview's winner.  While he may not have had the credentials many of the others have, but he has been racing hot at Hoosier Park in his last three starts for trainer/driver Verlin Yoder and deserved some attention.  I suspect we will hear more from this horse next year when he is staked to more FFA events

As we head towards the Breeders Crown, here are some interesting questions:

While it is a foregone conclusion that 3yo Trotting Colt of the Year is going to Jimmy Takter, will it be for Father Patrick or Nuncio?  It is obvious why Takter has tried to keep these two apart in most races, because they are clearly the best.  However, while Father Patrick would be the favorite for the award, what happens if Nuncio were to defeat him in the Breeders Crown?

Do we dare say Father Time is finally catching up with Foiled Again?  Yes, he just got nosed out in the Dayton Pacing Derby on Friday but the Foiled Again of the past would have been the one on the winning side of the photo.  Don't get me wrong, he is still a potent horse who will get his share of the purse money and an occasional win, but clearly he has lost a step.  Another question to be asked is if this will be his final year of racing?

Has Mcwicked peaked?  Mcwicked was hot early in the year but while his last couple of races hinted of a rebound, he was flat Saturday night in the Messenger Stakes, finishing 3rd.  I can understand him losing to All Bets Off who started right outside of him as he has been pretty hot himself, but the Mcwicked of old would have beaten Luck Be Withyou for second.  More importantly, he would have been eating up ground in the stretch instead of losing ground.

How impressive was Market Rally last night in the Hudson Filly Trot?  Forget how she and her stablemate Avalicious blew up not only themselves but the mutuel prices thanks to their miscues in the race, but what kind of performance did she give last night when being last, eight lengths behind at the quarter pole she brushed to have the lead before the half and carry it into the stretch when she paid the price for her miscue?  Often a horses best performance comes in defeat and last night will certainly go down as being pretty darn good.  This NYSS champion has earned a trip to the Breeders Crown and she may be one to watch in the 3yo filly trot.

How charmed is the Takter stable?  Not only did Nuncio win last night at Yonkers but up at Woodbine, the Takter stable benefited from some miscues and won the Goldsmith Maid with Smexi at $78.65-1.  In the Valley Victory, his entries finished 1-2.  Favorites, longshots it doesn't seem to matter.  I know it is the result of hard work, but it seems the stable is living a charmed life this season.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

The Big Night at Yonkers

While the Final Four stakes take place at Woodbine, three year olds and Invitational trotters do battle at Yonkers Raceway which features a $20,000 guaranteed Win-5 pool encompassing the big races.

In the past, an all-stakes multi-race wager at Yonkers has produced at times paltry payouts, a consequence of the half mile oval.  While attractive to the 'recreational' player, serious horseplayers tend not to get over-excited about these wagers with the placement of these big races in them because the results tend to be chalky, but it is what it is.  Ideally, tracks should take advantage of these marquee nights and attempt to place challenging races in the sequence so as to provide an attractive wagering scenario yet attract larger pools due to the night's activity.

So what does the Pick-5 look like tonight?  For the most part, I do see it chalky, however, there is a possibility of a price booster in the final leg, the Yonkers International Trot Preview.  But first, let's work ourselves through the races.

Leg 1 (Race 5, Yonkers Trot) - It looks like a two horse race between Gural Hanover and Nuncio.  It figures to be a quick move into the first turn and these two lining up one-two, the question being who takes the duo around the track.  I don't see these two hooking up into a speed duel so the only question is will someone try to pressure these two?  My guess is no, but in the event there is someone looking to take on that role and you want to throw a long shot in, Datsyuk, who shows a good effort over the Delaware oval would be my play. (2-1-4).

Leg 2 (Race 6, Messenger) - McWicked hasn't won in the last four starts but his most recent efforts over the Yonkers oval shows improvement and is worth a play. Of course, there is a question of the Burke entry of All Bets Off and Forty Five Red but the draw went against them getting posts 6 and 8.  That said, you can't completely eliminate All Bets Off as he like the track.  Wanting to go deeper? Luck Be Withyou is a possibility; expecting him to go higher than 8-5.  I will take my shot and single McWicked (5).

Leg 3 (Race 7, Hudson Trot) - No need to go past the entry of Market Rally and Avalicious.  Should Market Rally scratch out for some reason, then I would look at Mistresswithmuscle.  Let's go two deep here. (1-3).

Leg 4 (Race 8, Lady Maud) - Act Now has been in top form and I don't see a need to look past her.  Of course, Burke's entry must be respected.  Both halves, Beautiful Lady and A La Notte Hanover, show class and ability over the half mile oval so if you fear the Burke machine, throw them in (1-3).

Leg 5 (Race 9, International Preview) - Here is where I reach.  All the press has been Commander Crowe and Sebastian K.  I am going toss both.  Commander Crowe comes out of quarantine  and makes his first start in America, but more importantly at Yonkers with the weird configuration.  The trainer has made it known he is looking for a couple of preps for the Breeders Crown so he may be short.  As for Sebastian K, he looked good in his last although he lost but he is known to be best at the mile distance and this race is 10 furlongs; I will let him beat me.

So who do you go with then?  Bee A Magician is a classy mare and must be respected.  Arch Madness set a track record at a 1 1/16 distance so he shows the ability for the added distance.  Natural Herbie draws poorly but shows some real good efforts.  Hopefully the extra distance allows him to get into the race.  I wouldn't go any deeper in this race (2-5-7).

The ticket:  2,5/1/1,3/3/2,5,7 - $6.00.

Good luck all and enjoy the races.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Why is it so Difficult for a Freshman Filly to be Voted HOY?

This time last year Bee A Magician was number one in the Top Ten Poll and about to draw off from Captaintreacherous. Unless she lost—an unlikely occurrence—the HOY race was over. This year things are more unsettled; Sebastian K is still on top, but after consecutive losses, second place Father Patrick is threatening. And if those two implode coming down the stretch there is always the undefeated freshman filly, JK She’salady. That would be an interesting development in that no two-year-old filly has ever been voted HOY.

There have been many great freshman fillies from the trotting and pacing ranks, but circumstances, perhaps a dominant player from the sophomore or FFA ranks or simple prejudice against the fledgling set, have always prevented them from scoring the ultimate prize. For instance, in 1973 the Hickory Smoke filly Starlark Hanover won 21 of 22 starts for David Wade. She won 15 major stakes races, earned $145,000, and set nine track records along the way. She beat the boys—11 of them-- in the Harriman at Yonkers Raceway from the second tier. Starlark received only three HOY votes. And her contemporary, two-year-old Delmonica Hanover, who was voted HOY in 1974, received two votes that year.

Handle With Care was also a freshman in 1973, winning all 17 starts for Bill Haughton, including the Matron, Belle Acton, Hanover and La Paloma. HWC was voted HOY in Canada, but received only one vote in the US. The overwhelming choice that year, garnering 187 of 216 votes, was the trotting bred FFA pacer Sir Dalrae. He won 20 of 27 starts and earned more than $300,000 for Jim Dennis. The son of Porterhouse, who had no success as a trotter, swept the inaugural US Pacing Championship Series at Sportsman’s Park, Roosevelt Raceway and Hollywood Park, matching the Roosevelt track record of 1:57.4 in the process. That being said, it’s hard to justify Starlark, Delmonica and Handle With Care getting only six votes.

In 1964 freshman filly Armbro Flight won 20 of 26 starts, earning more money than any two-year-old filly ever had--$107,452. The sourpuss daughter of Star’s Pride was voted HOY in Canada. Her problem in the US was Bret Hanover, who became the first two-year-old to win HOY honors. He won all 24 starts, set nine track records for his class, and earned more money than any two-year-old ever had. Bret got 174 of 182 votes, so there weren’t many left for Armbro Flight.

Flamboyant, the great Florican filly trained by Bill Haughton and driven by Haughton and John Chapman, was an outstanding freshman, but ran into a similar Bret Hanover problem, as the great pacer captured his third HOY title in 1966.

George Segal’s Albatross filly, Three Diamonds, won nine of her ten starts and more than $233,000 for Gene Riegle in 1981, but Fan Hanover captured 133 votes thanks to her precedent setting win in the Jug. There were only nine votes available to Three Diamonds.

Three years later freshman Davidia Hanover won 12 of 13, set a world record at The Meadows, and earned more than $500,000, but Fancy Crown won the division handily, with On The Road Again and two-year-old Nihilator also receiving quite a few votes. There were just two left for Davidia.

Follow My Star won 13 of 14 in 1985, but Nihilator and OTRA took all the votes. Four years later Peace Corps won a unanimous decision in her division off of 15 wins, including the Merrie Annabelle and the Breeders Crown, but four-year-old Mack Lobell cashed his 17 wins in for the title.

 In 1991 Miss Easy, who, like Armbro Flight and Peace Corps,  was anything but easy to deal with, won 15 of 17, including the BC, Three Diamonds, Countess Adios and Sweetheart, but Beach Towel trumped that by winning the NA Cup, Meadowlands Pace and Tattersalls Pace.

The No Nukes filly Immortality swept her division at two in 1992, with the BC, Three Diamonds and Sweetheart being among her 13 wins, earning her over a million dollars, but she received only 14 HOY votes, compared to 244 for Mr. Perfect, Artsplace.

In 1995 NA Cup and Maeadowlands Pace winner Cam’s Card Shark beat BC and Nat Ray winner Pine Chip 206 to 180, leaving CR Kay Suzie in the dust with 12 measly votes. She got her title the following year when she took the Yonkers Trot and the WTD. Continentalvictory was her victim.

Eternal Camnation took 12 of her 13 starts in 1999, but six-year-old Moni Maker was voted HOY.

At two the great Snow White won 11 of 13 and swept her division. She set a world record on a half and earned more than $1.2 million, however, Hambletonian, Kentucky Futurity and CTC winner Donato Hanover received 189 votes to 11 for her.

Honorable Daughter was an outstanding freshman, but SBSW got in her way. Check Me Out won 14 of 16 and set a world record, but her eight HOY votes were no match for the 93 San Pail received.

JK She’salady has a better shot at getting over the HOY hurdle than many of the fillies listed above: Sebastian and Patrick both have blemishes on their records that an undefeated filly can exploit. If her two elders stumble over the course of the next month, while she remains upright, there’s no reason she can’t be the first freshman filly to be voted Horse of the Year.

Joe FitzGerald

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Trés Bon Yonkers et des Cavaliers

We are two weeks away from the grand experiment, perhaps the most exciting thing to happen to harness racing wagering-wise in the last ten to twenty years; the expansion of American harness racing into the European market, primarily into France via PMU.

While I would have thought another track would have been the first one to make the move to conquer Europe, it is Yonkers Raceway and their horsemen's group, the SOA which stakes its claim to being the first track to make a serious attempt to enter the market.  Sure, there have been special events such as the Hambletonian and Breeders Crown which have been simulcasted to Europe, but those were special occasions and even then, it would be a few races at a time because Europe doesn't permit wagering on pacing events.  On many occasions, they would have separate pools so the North American gambler would not have the advantage of that money flowing into our domestic pools.

Unlike those special event occasions, these six Sundays (starting November 9) represents a new approach to taking the American sulky sport to Europe.  All trotting cards and distance racing will be the name of the game on these Sundays, something which up to now has been the bane of American handicappers and horsemen, (the distance racing), all done to appeal to the European market.  Racing at 11am so to make the product available in Europe at a reasonable time (5pm in Paris) requires a very quick turn around for those racing on Saturday evening.  Developing social media and websites in French to help promote the sport and simulcasting in France is essential to acclimate French gamblers to the American sport.  Yes, a lot of effort is being expended but the potential reward is great, for tomorrow Europe and if successful. who knows where next?

Of course, the bending over has all been American at this point.  Hopefully, if the program is successful, more convenient post times will be a possibility, and dare I say, getting the Europeans to accept a few pacing events for their consumption on these cards?

For American bettors, the possibility of larger pools so odd changes are not as drastic so we don't see last minute odds plunging awaits them if this experiment goes as hoped.  Right now, the pools will be separate but if co-mingling occurs, whales being able to bet with confidence that their 4-1 play doesn't turn into a 2-5 proposition as well as the little guy not finding themselves collecting their $3.20 payoff when wagered at 5-1 is an exciting possibility.  

Who knows, the simulcasting highway can go two ways.  Now, the races will be going from New York to Europe; one day the races may come the other way.  It may not be important at present but as horse shortages continue to deepen, tracks may need to cut race dates out of necessity, and these imported races may give gamblers product to wager on and allow track and horsemen purse accounts to grow on forced dark days.  

Yonkers and its horsemen are blazing the path.  Hopefully other tracks will be able to join the export movement so this doesn't become a one-off experiment but the start of a new beginning.

One thing I can't help but wonder is if we can develop social media and web pages to attract French speaking horseplayers abroad, why can't we develop the same for our potential Spanish speaking customers here at home?  In certain markets, such as the New York metropolitan area and in Florida, the market is bilingual.  To not attempt to reach out to the Spanish market is ridiculous.  Even the New York Mets has recognized this with their Los Mets website.  If other companies can run bilingual advertisements, what makes racing think it can market only to the English speaking market?

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

2014 Report Card on Share The Delight

Sarah Thomas, a friend of VFTRG and a representative of STAGBI (the breed registry for Great Britain and Ireland), provides us with a final update on how Share The Delight's initial crop of 2yos performed in Wales and the rest of the United Kingdom now that their racing season has concluded for the year.

Here is her update....

The final update is very much as per my last update - Kentucky Rocket remained the sole Share The Delight to race, his best performance was a third place in the North Wales Standardbred Association 2YO colts staged at York Harness Raceway. Overall his first crop has been very lacklustre.

Brywins Magician (Share The Delight - Lifes Magic Girl) was third highest yearling sold (£5000) at
 the annual yearling sale at York Harness Raceway on October 4, 2014 (photo courtesy of Janet Cockburn)

However, the annual sale at York Harness Raceway was held a fortnight ago (Saturday 4th October) and the sole Share The Delight yearling put forward made £5000 (third highest priced yearling sold). BRYWINS MAGICIAN (bred by Brian Davies, Powys, Wales) out of Lifes Magic Girl [Life Sign] is a half-brother to one of the top Free For All horses in the UK, Brywinsmagicpotion (Camotion), who has won numerous FFAs this season all over the UK and Ireland. This, in my opinion, is the best chance Share The Delight has and I will keep you updated of his progress 

The annual Standardbred sale at Builth Wells, mid Wales, is being held on Monday and the following horses were entered. 
For reference, the top yearling price at the sale was £51,000 (new British sale record) for a Hasty Hall colt out of Tonda Star (Albert Albert). The total number of yearlings forward was 41; 34 of which sold for an average price of £3,967.94. 

Lot #13 - GARTHS SHAREGAR - colt out of Garths Landscape, by Artiscape (£800)

Lot #24 - BRYWINS LARGO - colt out of Brywins Largesse, by Laag (£1,100)

Lot #25 - BRYWINS MONALISA - filly out of Art Connection, by Artsplace (£600)

Lot #44 - BRYWINS DELIGHT - filly out of Playfull Bunny, by Precious Bunny (£950)

Lot #45 - BRYWINS AWESOME - colt out of Brywinsallamerican, by Allamerican Ingot (Not Forward [Withdrawn]) 

Lot 46 - BRYWINS MALALA - filly out of Maple Hanover, by Dragon Again (£850)

Lot 47 - BRYWINS RUBY - filly out of Lifes Treasure, by Life Sign (Not Forward)

Lot 48 -  BRYWINS DANA - filly out of Duckwork, by Arturo (£600)

There are less Brywins yearlings by him this year as Brian [Davies] has used his other stallion, Star On The Beach (half brother to Somebeachsomewhere) on a few of his mares [Share The Delight stood stud at Oakwood Stud, County Offaly, Ireland in 2014 before returning home after the breeding season].

Clearly, it was a disappointing season for Share The Delight's first crop of two year olds.  While only one horse made it to the races, others showed promise before being turned out for the year at various points in their training.  It may be the case this crop may make its mark at the age of three, but as in North America,  horsemen are looking for horses to race at two.

It will take another year or two before the final verdict is in for Share The Delight.  When it comes to breeding, you never know what will happen.  As long as someone is willing to breed to a stallion, there is always a chance a really good one may come along.

If you are interested in harness racing in Wales and Great Britain, allow me to recommend the Welsh TrottingBritish Harness Racing Club, and the Standardbred and Trotting Horse Association of Great Britain and Ireland websites for your perusal.  In addition, the Wales & West Harness Racing Association has a presence on Facebook.   

Others have noted the growth of racing in the UK and Ireland., has introduced a page dedicated to racing in the two countries.

"They Stopped Mowing the Grass Probably During the Ming Dynasty"

The year's not over yet, but I think we have heard the best line at a racing commission meeting this year.  "They stopped mowing the grass probably during the Ming Dynasty", which can be attributed  to KHRC member Alan Leavitt when referring to the operators of Thunder Ridge Raceway.  Leavitt further stated "There have been reports of people actually being bitten by snakes."  These comments were made when arguing the harness horsemen should be compensated in any deal to transfer the license of Thunder Ridge from Appalachian Racing to Keenland Association which would result in the track being moved to another part of the state to run quarter horses and, you guessed it open an instant racing parlor.

Of course, one could argue while it is true harness horsemen have put up with a lot at Thunder Ridge over the years so they should be compensated now that the license has value, one may ask does the KHRC ever visit the tracks it licenses and if so, why didn't they put the hammer down on Appalachian Racing and demand track operators keep the facility up to a minimum level of standard?  After all, if the place is in such a state of disrepair, is there any wonder their total handle for the past racing season was $950?  Then again, it being Kentucky, does the commission really care what goes on with the standardbreds and their horsemen?  

I have a couple of bones to pick with Harnesslink's Insider Access (Edition #15) this week.  One issue is the use of embryo transplant in harness racing.  They oppose the use of ET as being unnatural such as cloning and plain wrong.  The idea someone can flush an embryo from a racing mare and implant it in a surrogate while they continue on racing indeed is wrong on the surface.  If we are talking about racing horses, you shouldn't be credited with a foal if you don't carry it and if there is something with your broodmare which keeps it from carrying a foal successively to term, is that something we want to pass on to the next generation?  While we are at it, if we are against unnatural things, they must be against artificial insemination and advocate the return of natural cover, after all taking a stallion's semen and adding extenders and the like servicing more than one broodmare at a time certainly isn't the way nature intended.

The other issue with Insider Access this week is their problem with races restricted to drivers of certain racial, ethnic, or gender backgrounds.  The question they pose is if these are novelty races or racially insensitive events?  While they are talking about Australian races in particular, I will give them wide-birth as I am as qualified to speak about race relations in Australia as I am talking about quantum physics.  

That being said, I would suggest it is a question of context.  For example, if you look at Monticello Raceway's Heritage Series, where there is the Lady Godiva Pace (open to women only), the Martin Luther King Day Pace (open to drivers of African-American descent), Mayflower Pace (open to those of British ancestry), etc. where the winners of these races meet in a championship race it is neither a novelty or racist; it is a celebration of the American tapestry and in fact allows some groups who are often passed over when it comes to driving a chance to showcase their abilities. 

Despite my criticisms this week, Insider Access is a good read for those interested in harness racing.  You may not agree with everything they say, but it gives you something to think about.  If you are not a subscriber, I would suggest you do so, after all one edition every two weeks is not going to clog up your email.  Sign-up is easy; just click here.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Always B Miki And Freaky Feet Pete

Last year He’s Watching became the first freshman to win his division while racing exclusively in restricted races. None of his classmates stood out and, as a $3,000 bargain of diminutive stature, he carried a Cinderella story with him that none of his contemporaries could match. He got 68% as many votes as the other nominees in his class: BC winner Luck Be Withyou, Governor’s Cup winner JK Endofanera, Arthur Blue Chip and Western Vintage. None of those colts came close to capturing the imagination of the public.

This year’s outlier is Freaky Feet Pete, a first crop son of the well-bred stallion, Rockin Image, who stands in Indiana for $3,500. Like Rock N Roll Heaven, he’s from the first crop of Rocknroll Hanover. Unlike Pete, who has raced exclusively at Hoosier Park, primarily in the ISS, He’s Watching did the circuit in the higher profile NYSS, setting a 1:50 world record at Tioga in the process. This time last year He’s Watching, whose season had ended a few weeks earlier in the NYSS final, drew 38 points in the Top Ten Poll, enough to secure the number 11 spot. His crush job in the Super Final notwithstanding, Freaky Feet Pete got a single vote in this week’s poll. As was the case with He’s Watching last year, Pete is not staked to the BC and can’t be supplemented. However, he can buy in to the Matron, which is three weeks from now, for $20,000.

Always B Miki, the mighty sophomore by Always a Virgin, is a more interesting case. While he did win four legs of the Indiana SS at Hoosier, as well as the high dollar Super Final, he does have quite a bit of experience in the open realm. On the up side, he won a split of the SBSW; he built a cult following on an overland second place finish in the Pace; and he won a split of the Bluegrass in impressive fashion, in addition to taking a division of the Tattersalls Pace. Miki also raced in eliminations for the NA Cup and the Hempt.

Can Always B Miki win his division? In this week’s poll he’s 11th—same place He’s Watching was this time last year—with 35 points. In 2014 He’s Watching won the Pace, a split of the SBSW and the EBC. He disappointed in Delaware and went backwards in Lexington. He’s beyond being on shaky ground. McWicked, who drew the four post for Saturday’s Messenger, has dropped four in a row. Like He’s Watching, he was a disappointment in the Jug, and he skipped The Red Mile meet altogether. He’s badly in need of a win this week if he wants to stay in the race for division honors.

The other guy, JK Endofanera, is the reason it would be difficult for Miki to get the nod in the division. JK End blew Miki away in the Elevation at Hoosier in early November of last year and he beat Miki at his home track again this year, running him down in the Jenna’s Beach Boy. He won the other split of the Tattersalls, and he won the Cup. Throw in the Am-Nat, SBSW and Simpson and he has the broadest resume in the class. McWicked has earned a little bit more money, and that will be a lot more money if he wins the $500,000 Messenger.

Miki’s owner, Joe Hurley, and his group are apparently mulling over writing a $25,000 check to supplement their boy to the Matron on November 6. And they have pretty much made up their minds to fork over the $62,500 supplemental fee for the Breeders Crown. A win in both races, in tandem with a few missteps by the competition, may indeed elevate Miki to a leadership role in the division. Of course, pounding the big boys in the TVG final at the Meadowlands would seal the deal.

Joe FitzGerald

Heather's Fabulous Irish Adventure; How Accurate is Race Timing?

A story came out on how North American timing of thoroughbred races is inherently wrong thanks to the 'run up', the point between when the starting gate is opened and the horses reach the point timing begins.  Another reason why not to play thoroughbred racing because you don't know if they are timing a race at  6 1/2 furlongs 6 furlongs, 5 3/4 furlongs or somewhere in between at various tracks.

Unfortunately, we have the same problem in harness racing where tracks use the quick release method to give horses a better chance when the first turn would come up too quickly.  By releasing horses early, they are racing at full speed by the time the timer is tripped on versus starts at tracks where a quick release is not used.  Timing is only accurate when you are looking at races at the same track.  However, when you have horses shipping in from other tracks, let the handicapper beware.

This past weekend, Heather Vitale presented a feature on her Post Time Show about her trip to Ireland to cover Ladbroke's Vincent Delaney Memorial which was conducted at Portmarnock Raceway near Dublin.  It is always interesting to see how harness racing is presented elsewhere around the globe so this video is educational as well as enjoyable to watch.

As Heather says, a trip to experience harness racing in Ireland should be on everyone's bucket list.

Most of the time we hear about county fairs dropping harness racing due to lack of interest, insurance costs or other reasons, but it is unusual to hear about a county fair bringing harness racing back.

The Delaware (Indiana) County Fair is returning harness racing to Muncie for the first time in 20 years.  The fair board is working with Hoosier Park in this effort.

A horse races at Freehold on October 2 and ends up at New Holland on October 20.  How does this happen.  Is anyone at Freehold Raceway doing anything to make sure horses competing there don't end up at these grade auctions?  If they are, it must be a token effort.  Most tracks don't have any such policies and welcome horse dealers on the grounds on qualifying day.  When will harness tracks really work to keep horses safe once their careers end?

To no one's surprise, the sports leagues have filed for an immediate injunction to Monmouth Park   taking bets on sporting events this weekend.  A hearing will be held today in  Trenton in Round 1 in the battle for sports wagering (aka, the absurd battle).  Meanwhile, State Senator Lesniak sounds as optimistic as ever about NJ's effort to circumvent the previous federal ruling.  They needed someone as inspirational as Senator Lesniak at Little Big Horn.

Monday, October 20, 2014

The Colonial Downs Aftermath and Food for Thought?

Now that Colonial Downs is shutting down, perhaps for good, at the conclusion of the current standardbred meet; the result of being unable to reach an agreement with the thoroughbred horsemen over the number of days of live racing and the makeup of the meet.

Unfortunately, the standardbred horsemen suffer in this disagreement though they are not a party to the dispute.  Without the ability to simulcast thoroughbred races at Colonial's OTB locations and at the track, it is not financially feasible for Colonial to operate the track for a standardbred meet; there is not enough money being wagered on harness simulcasts.

The dispute is a familiar one.  Virginia, a state without slots is unable to offer competitive purses which means they offer mediocre racing which doesn't draw the interest of simulcast gamblers.  While the Virginia horsemen realize a long meet is not feasible, they want to run a meet primarily geared to the Virginia bred horses with a few races geared towards out of state horses.

Jeffrey Jacobs, the man who pays the bills for Colonial Downs realizes the track can't survive with its usual fare of racing considering the abundance of racing in the Mid-Atlantic region.  What he wants to do is offer a boutique meet, a 'Saratoga South' where there would be race cards geared towards the national stables with fewer races for Virginia bred horses.  Jacobs correctly theorizes race cards full of horses of national importance would attract simulcast gamblers, allowing Colonial Downs to go back to its early glory days and return the track to a better financial footing.  Of course, to offer these purses, there is the need to simulcast thoroughbred races all year in order to build the purse account up.

While the two groups basically agreed on the number of days (26), they couldn't agree on how the days would scheduled and how much racing there would be for the local product versus imported talent.  When Jacobs attempted to form a new horse group, it was known the VRC would not accept them, hence Jacobs surrendered his license.

The dispute at Colonial Downs is of importance to the standardbred industry because the dispute in Virginia touches on issues facing harness racing.  There is too much racing content offered on most days when you consider the audience interested in harness racing.  You may say those slot states don't have such a problem since their purses are subsidized but that is not true in the long term.  Even if you disregard the states cutting the amount racing gets from slots or decoupling, you have the issue of over saturation.  Over saturation is going to cause purse accounts to shrink as less slot money will flow into those accounts, resulting in purses being cut as is the case of Delaware, a state where the tracks are in financial peril.  If subsidies are reduced sufficiently, horsemen and tracks are going to look at handle more seriously.

The only way tracks are going to be able to get handle up is by offering racing which people will be interested in wagering on.  The only way this will be possible is if tracks will adopt Jacob's approach of offering boutique meets.  The days of racing year round at one track or even a state is not going to be possible; we need fewer tracks running at the same time so those running will get a larger share of the simulcasting pie.  The question is what will the final solution look like to address this problem?

Perhaps we need to look at Monmouth Park, specifically the year they offered their 'super meet' when they offered inflated purses to attract horses from the top stables, getting some horses which would have headed to Saratoga to reside in Oceanport.  At the conclusion of the super meet which got national attention, Monmouth conducted a lower grade meet featuring NJ bred races.  Yes, Monmouth lost money that year, probably due to the fact the same number of tracks raced against them.

Harness racing would be best served to address the issue of how to reduce the number of race dates while things are going relatively well.  Failure to address the issue now may result in a Virginia-type standoff which has cancelled thoroughbred racing in 2014 and apparently in the future; at least until a game change moment occurs.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Cat Tribute; Michigan Not Dead Yet

Last night, Yonkers Raceway paid tribute to Catello Manzi on his retirement earlier this year.  It was fitting Yonkers held a retirement ceremony for the Cat Man as he made Yonkers Raceway his last home along with Freehold Raceway before one accident too many made him realize it was time to hang up his whip.

As part of the ceremony, Yonkers produced a tribute video to Cat which was shown.  For those who missed it, here it is:

When Hazel Park Raceway sent the standardbreds into exile this year in favor of thoroughbreds, it looked like the end of harness racing at the biggest Michigan track and perhaps the state itself.  Well, not so fast.  While Hazel Park has once again applied for a mixed breed meet in 2015, they have also applied for a standardbred meet to run from October 2 to November 28.  Northville Downs also applied for a mixed breed meet as well as a standardbred meet to run from March 20 thru August 15.  Sports Creek Raceway, which raced trotters this year has asked for a meet in 2015 but fail to specify which breed.  Returning to the schedule, Jackson Raceway has asked for a standardbred race meet from May 15 thru August 29.  Assuming Sports Creek races standardbreds during their proposed 34 day meet, 2015 will have as much as 132 race days of standardbred racing.

Of course, these race dates need to be approved by the MGCB and as we say last year, it apparently is easy to change breeds after the tracks have had their applications approved.

Last week in HRU, someone who is not a big fan of RUS wrote a letter criticizing the sport, indicating he rather bet on pig races at the county fairs.  This week, Rebecca Titus, Publicist of RUS Ontario, wrote a response defending RUS.  Titus is 100% correct.  Wagering was inline with regular races and the question of unknown riders and horses, well that will be addressed when there is more RUS racing.  As long as the harness racing community doesn't throw road blocks in the path of RUS, this type of racing will not only attract new gamblers, it will complement the traditional form of harness racing.

In the same edition of HRU, Dean Towers writes how the sky is not falling in harness racing.  There are some good things happening.  Are the problems, sure, but it is important to note the good things as well.

Despite the renaissance in Ohio harness racing, the Williams County Fair is considering dropping harness racing from the 2015 due to declining attendance at the races.  Despite the infusion from slots, it still boils down to seats in the grandstand when it comes to these fairs.  Enriching owners is not the mission of the fairs; putting on entertaining events and maximizing the return on the fair boards' investment is what matters.