For photos from the Meadowlands contact

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Michigan Suspense. Closes Out 2014

Tonight, the eyes of American harness racing will be on Sports Creek Raceway as Aaron Merriman and Ronnie Wrenn Jr. take their quest for the national dash winning title to Swartz Creek for the least night of racing in 2014.  Wrenn currently has a five win lead over Merriman.  This may be the biggest night of racing ever at Sports Creek.  It may also be the last as a contract dispute between the MHHA and Sports Creek Raceway enters the final stage.  Under Michigan law, Sports Creek is required to cease all racing options without a signed agreement.

The dispute?  How much will the MHHA support track management by contributing part of the purse account towards operation of the track.  Currently, they offer $8,000 a night to track management which they offer Northvillle yet Sports Creek claims it isn't enough.

Will Sports Creek and the MHHA come to an agreement at this late juncture?  If not, how long will the track be closed before an agreement is met?  Perhaps more importantly will be if the track is forced to close will it ever reopen?

The year may be changing but nothing seems to change in Michigan.

For those TVG customers, today's harness racing activity is limited to Balmoral Park, Western Fair District and Northlands Park with Monticello Raceway in the afternoon.  However, the only track which will be shown live on TV is Western Fair.

Happy New Years to all.  May 2015 bring you plenty of big hits.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Sunshine Select Sale Postponed to 2016

The Inaugural Sunshine Select Sale, scheduled for January 25 has been cancelled due to the lack of quality entries.  According to a press release, the consigned horses which were to be sold at the sale will be sold either privately or via an online auction.

Once again, harness racing has failed to move ahead.  Two year olds in training sales are very popular in thoroughbred racing because buyers are able to see horses in training with a pretty good assurance that barring injury, the horse they purchase will make it to the races as two year olds.  For that privilege, owners are willing to pay handsomely and consignors would benefit.   These sales would help the prices at yearling auctions because pinhookers would look to purchase yearlings with an eye towards selling them a few months later at the 'in training' sales; the net result helping to bring higher averages to the yearling sales and keeping breeders in business.

Instead of subscribing to the benefits of a sale like Sunshine Select, apparently what was happening was consignors were attempting to unload their 'rejects', which would no doubt doom the sale.  After all, it is easy enough to buy a horse which won't make it to the races or need additional time if it was to make it to the races at all.  As a result, the sales company will purchase a sufficient number of high caliber yearling in order to ensure a sufficient number of two year olds, ready to go will be available for auction.

Perhaps once the industry sees how profitable these type of sales can be, people will be willing to participate.  In the meanwhile, breeders continue to struggle to make a profit on those 'surprises' who become future champions.

I don't know about you, but there was nothing I liked more than going to the track to ring in the New Year.  There is something special about those evenings, not only the parties in the dining rooms, but even on the grandstand, the feeling of something special would permeate the cold winter evening as you would hope to end the year with a profitable evening and failing that, driving home at the birth of the new year.

Unfortunately, if so inclined, you will find almost impossible to find a trotting track open on New Years Eve as the only two tracks racing tomorrow night are Balmoral Park and Sports Creek Raceway (Monticello has an afternoon card).  I realize it is not only the declining interest in racing which has caused tracks to abandon New Years Eve; the fact is a sufficient number of players will be playing the races, but instead of coming to the track, they will be betting from home where the horsemen and tracks will be splitting their three cents out of each dollar wagered.  Unless you like a blood bath, it doesn't make financial sense to race.  I agree takeout is too high, but there is something wrong when the producer of the product splits 3% while those pulling the signal in make out like bandits (relatively).  There is something wrong in this model and unless it changes, there is further trouble down the road.

Monday, December 29, 2014

What Do We Need to Do to Get the 18-49 Group Interested?

In yesterday's HRU, there was a letter from Jeff Gural which indicated he still has a hard time getting younger people to the track and suggests the need to hire the smartest marketing people in order to develop a marketing plan to attract the younger generation.

Well, I certainly will not compare myself to the great marketing minds, but allow me to offer a few ideas to address the reason why they may not be attending the races.

  1. Reaching Out to Other Nationalities - Perhaps it is different at your track but when I attend the races I see a sea of white men at the track with a few other people attending.  I don't know about you, but with America becoming more of a melting pot, being what Ron Kuby used to call 'Whitelandia' is not what (harness) racing needs to be.  There is a need to market to other communities in order to have your racetrack welcoming to other ethnic groups.  This may be formal advertising; it may be social media in Spanish and other languages explaining harness racing to them and trying to get them to come to the track..
  2. Speaking of demographics, what do most men/women of the younger generation like?  Available women and men.  Men show up but there is usually a dearth of women at the track.  Here again racing loses out because we present the same old male-oriented game.  Unlike thoroughbred racing, we don't welcome women to become active participants in the sulky.  Unless a woman owns a horse, odds are the horse will be driven by a man.  If thoroughbred racing can accept women jocks, why can't we accept woman drivers?  RUS is another venue to get women involved.  The more women who become the human stars of racing, the more interest there will be by women as there will be a connection to attract them to the sport.
  3. Exchange Wagering - When will the sport accept exchange wagering?  Young people don't want to wager on a 10-1 and end up earning $5.20.  We need to offer a form of wagering where gamblers have a pretty definitive idea of what they will be earning if they win.  Being we are not about to welcome bookmakers back ot the track, exchange wagering is a bet the younger generation understands and wants.
  4. It's Festival time!  In other countries, tracks have carnivals, where they offer their best racing and make a big-to-do of their festivals.  Link it to a charity and promote them during the festival and have some non-racing events tied to it.  Offer events which will attract younger people, perhaps on a dark day with a built in incentive to show up on a racing day.  Here is an important thing people may think is counter-intuitive.  Charge admission.  Nothing says ho hum as free admission.   Charging admission invokes a feeling of worth.  Afraid of people revolting?  Donate a portion of ticket sales to the charity of interest.  Offer stakes racing that week.
  5. Beer.  No, I am not saying the second coming of Kegasus, but remember when you were young and foolish (I mean the feeling of invincible)?  Have beer tents with craft beer and food trucks.  I am not suggesting selling beer passes,  the last thing you want is a bunch of excessively drunken people making a scene, tearing the place apart, you want to keep it classy.  If you have an open infield, allow people to be inside the track.
  6. Speed up the racing.  Okay, you may not want to cut the time between the races, but post time better mean post time.  Nothing is going to tick the younger generation off more than 'jerking' them around with the start time of the race.
I am sure there are other ideas which can attract young people to the races.  Do you have any ideas?  Let me know.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Top Ten Drivers of 2014 By Earnings

I took a look at how the drivers in this year’s top ten fared compared with what they did last year. The figures for 2014 run through Saturday December 27, so they’re not perfect year-end numbers, but close enough. A few end-of-year drives by Corey Callahan at Dover Downs are all that’s missing. Nine drivers repeat, in a different order, of course. Andy Miller, who missed six months after breaking his back in an accident ay Yonkers Raceway in mid-April is out, replaced by Brett Miller, who had an excellent year, moving up nine spots.

Six members of the top ten earned less this year than they did last, and eight of them made fewer starts during 2014. Jason Bartlett, who supplanted Sears as the top dog at Yonkers Raceway, and Brett Miller, who was a poor man’s Yannick Gingras with the Burke and Takter stock, were the only two who won more races this year than last.

Yannick Gingras, the unanimous choice for Driver of the Year, had 18 fewer wins through Saturday but his earnings were up 18%, which amounts to more than $3 million. All of this with about 100 fewer starts than he made during 2013. The time spent in Sweden with Maven earlier in the year and the current trip to France with that same mare, would account for some of that. Burke and Takter both had spectacular years and Gingras, having first call for both, benefited greatly. Father Patrick, JK Endofanera, Mission Brief, Sassa Hanover, Limelight Beach, Pinkman, Foiled Again, Cartoon Daddy, Gural Hanover, Band Of Angels, Lifetime Pursuit and Maven were a few of his money makers.

Tim Tetrick, who will drop down to second, missed the first five weeks of the year recuperating from hip surgery. He made 266 fewer starts through Saturday and won 63 fewer races. His earnings are down a whopping 26%, or $4.2 million. Captaintreacherous’s earnings dropped from $2 million to $175,000 and Market Share saw his 2014 bankroll cut in half. I Luv The Nitelife failed to rebound from an injury and was retired. He’s Watching won the Pace in record time in mid-July, but only won the EBC after that. Classic Martine was very good and Anndrovette was solid. He won some money with Clear Vision and Sayitall BB, and Horse of the Year JK She’salady fell in his lap late in the year. Still, for the most part, the stock wasn’t competitive with the lightning bolts Yannick was steering around the track.

Ron Pierce, who turns 59 in June, jumped up from the fifth spot to number three on the earnings list. He made 442 fewer starts and won 89 fewer races, however, his earnings only dropped by 5%, or $581,000. Gingras’ success took some dough from the pockets of all the top guys, but Pierce, crafty dog that he is, managed to sidle in behind $1.2 million dollar earner Shake It Cerry from the Takter barn and $1.3 million dollar earner Sweet Lou from the Burke Barn. He also drove Uncle Lasse, Wild Honey, Yagonnakissmeornot, Lyons Levi Lewis and E L Titan.

David Miller has maintained his hold on the four spot on the 2014 list, however, he took a 20% haircut, earning $2.5 million less than last year on 441 fewer starts. His win total dropped by 41. McWicked was second only to Father Patrick in overall earnings with $1.4 million. And even there Miller chose Always B Miki over that one for the Breeders Crown, which didn’t work out when Miki was injured prior to the race. He did get McWicked back for the Progress though. The Buckeye drove Holloway’s pair Shebestingin and Somwherovrarainbow, but neither one of them lived up to expectations. Jolene Jolene was good, but like Tetrick, Miller didn’t have the stock to compete with Gingras.

Brian Sears, who straddled Yonkers Raceway and the Grand Circuit again, dropped from number three to number five this year. He had 66 fewer wins in 83 fewer starts and finished more than $4 million short of last year’s total—that’s 30% less. In 2013 he had the richest pair of trotters in the sport, Horse of the Year Bee A Magician, who earned $1.5 million, and Hambletonian winner Royalty For Life, who earned $1.2 million. The latter retired early while BAM disappointed; she earned $421,000 this year. Sears drove freshman hotshot In The Arsenal, and he lucked into the drive behind McWicked in the BC when David Miller only had eyes for Miki. As was the case with Tetrick and David Miller, the stock wasn’t there to compete on the Grand Circuit. Additionally, Jason Bartlett rose up at Yonkers.

Corey Callahan, who missed time to the Great Southern Star Trotting Series and the Drivers Invitational in Australia in March, found the six spot again this year. He won last year’s Rising Star Award and hasn’t looked back. Like Ron Pierce, Corey kept his losses to a minimum. He had 40 fewer winners in 189 fewer starts but only backtracked 7%, or $693,000 in purse money. This constitutes an excellent year for any driver not sitting forward on the Burke-Takter Gravy Train. He picked away at it, winning a sixth consecutive driving title at Dover Downs and soaking up that Delaware sire stakes money; he took a $100,000 final with the filly pacer Totally Rusty three weeks ago. Callahan made 28% of his starts at Dover Downs and earned $2 million there.  Smexi, D’Orsay, Harley Momma, Resolve, Drop The Ball and Tomy Terror were a few of his drives this year.

Jason Bartlett stayed close to home, racking up 94% of his more than $8 million in earnings at Yonkers Raceway, where he won a fourth driving title. Busting this year’s pattern, Bartlett made 194 more starts and won 174 more races this year. He earned almost a million dollars more than he did in 2013—that’s 12% more than last year. He won 485 times at his Westchester base, that’s 83 and 82 more races than Sears and Brennan won.

Matt Kakaley, the only under 30 driver on the list, who handles the Burke horses Yannick passes over, drove in 193 fewer races and won 78 fewer times, but he upped his earnings 7% from 2013, banking an extra $560,000. All Bets Off gave him the biggest win of his career when he took the Messenger. And he won with Cartoon Daddy on the Night of Champions at Yonkers. He also drove Bettor’s Edge, Handover Belle, Wishing Stone, Quick Deal, Gatka Hanover and Camille.

Brett Miller, who is number nine on the list, had a breakout year in 2014. Like most of the drivers who did well, he was a regular behind Takter and Burke horses. He drove French Laundry, Clear Vision, Donatella Hanover and Krispy Apple, among others. He won eight in a row with Sandbetweenurtoes for Larry Remmen. Wake Up Peter has earned $250,000 this year with Brett driving him. Miller won only 15 more races from almost 400 more drives, but his earnings jumped 35%. He took in $2.7 million more than he did last year.

George Brennan has been a regular at Yonkers Raceway since the fall of 2010. In 2011 he won the Hambletonian with Broad Bahn and the Oaks with Bold And Fresh, but over the course of the last three years he has become less inclined to venture out on the Grand Circuit. He gets quite a few drives on Burke’s stock at Yonkers and won the Sheppard with Cartoon Daddy. This year he dropped from number seven to ten. He drove in 44 fewer races, winning 10 fewer times and earning more than $2 million less than he did in 2013—that’s 20% of what he took in last year.
Joe FitzGerald


Solvato Victorious in the Prix De Bourgogne

Solvato won today the Prix De Bourgogne at Paris-Vincennes today, winning the 2,100 meter contest in 2:32.07 (1:12,4 kilometer rate; 1:56.3 mile rate).

Maven took the lead early in the race (#7) as Yannick Gingras (wearing Jimmy Takter's colors) sought to get the mare in good position.  She was then passed by Texas Charm and Ready Cash to end up in third place along the inside.  Unfortunately for Maven, while she had a chance in the stretch, her day was finished when both Texas Charm and Ready Cash went off-stride, forcing Gingras to collect her up to avoid being run into by the breakers, eliminating any chance of finishing well.  The net result was Maven finishing unplaced (not in the top ten)..  

The top ten finishers in the race were:

1st - Solvato (#17) - 1.12.4
2nd - Up And Quick (#1) -  1:12.5 (DH)
2nd - Tiego D'etang (#5) - 1:12.5 (DH)
4th - Roxane Griff (#9) - 1:12.5
5th - Kadett C D (#10) - 1:12,6
6th - Severino (#2) - 1:12.6
7th - Timoko (#3) - 1:12.7
8th - Talicia Bella (#16) - 1:12.7
9th - Oibambam Effe (#18) - 1:12.8
10th - Uhlan Du Val (#4) - 1:12.8

As much as Maven finished unplaced, she was still alive in the race when disaster broke.  Assuming a decent post position in her next race and some racing luck, Maven may be a factor in the race, especially since Takter plans to use a European driver in the next event which will be contested from a standing start.

Hope for Vernon Downs?

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo sent a letter to the New York Gaming Commission asking them to reopen bidding for a casino license in the 'true' Southern Tier of New York.  If bidding is reopened, Tioga Downs would be the leading candidate as the only other bidder in the Southern Tier, Traditions, has scrapped plans for a casino and have joined Gural's Tioga Downs project.

While it is imagined any new bidding would allow for new applicant's to join the fray, it is expected Tioga Downs would be the leading candidate to win.  A victory by Tioga Downs would bolster the chances of Vernon Downs to continue racing as any expanded gaming at Tioga would contribute to Vernon's continued operation.  Of course, while likely, there is no guarantee the NYSGC will reopen bidding and even if it is, the date additional applications would become due and when any selection is made is unknown.  

Having been away for a few days, I have been quiet, but going through my mail and elsewhere, I can't help but note the Meadowlands Pace has a named sponsor, Crawford Farms.  Sponsorship of the Meadowlands Pace means not only funds for the Pace and marketing, it adds panache to the event.  While it is great someone in the racing industry is stepping forward to support one of the premier events, it would have been better if a national brand would have been a sponsor as it would increase visibility to an event.   Hopefully, sponsorship to other events, Meadowlands and elsewhere, can be found.

Do you remember Susan Looney?  A racing accident made Looney decide the racing game was no longer for her, but what does a high-school drop out do?  Looney got her GED and went back to school and never left the world of academia.  While we focus almost exclusively on the standardbred sport, the fact is not ever driver and trainer makes it in the industry.  It is nice to see someone walk away and become successful, especially since consolidation will force some racing participants to seek employment elsewhere.  Here is a profile of Looney, courtesy of  the Times Leader.

While of no interest to racing fans, Workers Compensation is an important factor for many industry participants.  Some states require owners or trainers to have workers compensation plans for their employees.  In New Jersey, case was decided where trainers are ruled not to be employees of owners as they have control over most decisions regarding horses, hence they may be considered independent contractors.  The status of stable employees is clear.  Less clear is the status of drivers.  In New York, they are considered employees but in other states, drivers may be considered independent contracotrs.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Thoughts On The O'Brien Awards

Time to handicap the O’Brien awards, the winners of which will be announced on February 7.

One genius gave a Dan Patch divisional vote to Sports Chic over JK She’salady,  but we can comfortably assume the Art Major filly, who won five times in Canada, including the Three Diamonds, She’s A Great Lady and Eternal Camnation, will cruise to victory.

Artspeak, who had eight wins in ten starts, including the Governor’s Cup, a split of the Nassagaweya and the Metro, should win the freshman pacing O’Brien. The latter two were big wins in Canada and he took the Metro in 1:50.2. He earned more than $800,000. The opposition, the Ponder colt Go Daddy Go, won an elimination for the BC and one for the Metro, but that won’t get you an O’Brien. He won four times, was not a star in the OSS, and did not take the Super Final—the lightly raced Reverent Hanover did. A colt that isn’t even the best sire stakes colt in Ontario can’t be expected to beat out Artspeak.

Lady Shadow beat Major Dancer in a split of the Cinderella at Maywood for Doug McNair. She also won the Battle of the Belles and took a couple of Gold Legs. Major Dancer won the Town Pro and scored seven wins and 16 board finishes in 19 starts, with success coming in the NYSS. Lady Shadow should take this O’Brien for sophomore filly pacers.

JK Endofanera won the North America Cup, which often serves as a leg up on an O’Brien divisional title. Although last year’s winner, Captaintreacherous, didn’t have the required three starts in Canada, so Vegas Vacation took the O’Brien. And the previous year Michaels Power beat out Cup winner Thinking Out Loud. JK End also won a split of the SBSW. While he earned more than a million he was not a dominant player in the division after that Cup win. He made the board 17 times in 20 starts, but a split of the Tattersalls Pace was his only subsequent Grade I win. His competition, Casie Coleman’s McArdle colt McWicked, was second in his SBSW split and won his Cup elimination. He was fourth in the final. He did win the BC, Adios, Hempt and Progress, and he was voted a Dan Patch, although he had no Triple Crown wins. Casie may swing this one to McWicked. Having the Cup winner not win an O’Brien three years running would be noteworthy.

American In Paris had a very successful year, but she’s a preferred mare. Anndrovette, on the other hand, won the Roses Are Red for the third year in a row and also took the elimination for that race. I don’t see how one can give a preferred mare the nod over a four-time Dan Patch winner for the O’Brien.

In the aged male pacing division 5-year-old State Treasurer has a better resume. He won the Molson and beat Modern Legend in the Allerage at The Red Mile. However, Modern Legend won the big one, the CPD, at 65/1 odds, slaying kingpin Sweet Lou in the process. Dave Drew’s pacer will probably get the nod.

The two freshman trotting fillies, both based in Ontario, leave voters with a tough choice. Danielle Hall is the best two-year-old filly Dewey has produced. He no longer stands in Ontario, having taken up residence in New York for the steeply discounted fee of $6,000. And the other filly, Stubborn Belle, is a product of the peripatetic Taurus Dream, who passed in France almost two years ago. Lots of nominees by OSS stallions that have since moved on or passed or by marginal stallions: Muscle Mass, Dewey Justice Hall, Infinitif, Taurus Dream, Modern Art, Ponder….

Danielle Hall has a win in the Champlain, a Super Final win and five OSS Gold wins. She finished second to Mission Brief in the BC as well as in her BC elimination. Danielle was also second in her Goldsmith Maid elimination. She won a couple of more races and earned a little more money than Stubborn Belle, who won the Peaceful Way when Mission Brief broke. Stubborn Belle won three times in the OSS and finished third to Danielle in the Super Final. She was also back of Danielle in the BC. Stubborn Belle’s Peaceful Way win tops anything Danielle accomplished, but overall Danielle was better in open competition and in the OSS, so I’ll go with her.

The Conway Hall trotter Habitat and Don’t Rush, a son of Infinitif, contest the two-year-old O’Brien. The former is a legitimate Grand Circuit colt, who drew off in the Wellwood, while Don’t Rush was no factor. Habitat also won the Matron and a split of the Bluegrass. There’s no way to justify choosing Don’t Rush over Habitat.

Riveting Rosie, who deserves the O’Brien for a three-year-old filly trotter, started slowly but improved as the year went on. She wasn’t up to beating the Grand Circuit bunch, but she did finish second behind Shake It Cerry in the Elegantimage. She won the OSS Super Final. The other nominee, White Becomes Her, consistently finished back of Rosie.

Harper Blue Chip had an outstanding season, earning $700,000, sweeping the OSS and finishing third in the Hambletonian. Any other time he’d be a deserving winner. However, Trixton won the Simcoe, Goodtimes and his Goodtimes elimination in Canada, and he also took the Hambletonion. Sorry, Harper.

The fact that Bee A Magician, who was winless in Canada this year, is a finalist is reminiscent of Foiled Again being one in 2013. Classic Martine, the Dan Patch winner, won the Armbro Flight and two legs of the Miss Versatility in Ontario. BAM won the BC, but you can’t justify voting her an O’Brien.

Intimidate won the most prestigious race for older trotters in Canada, the Maple Leaf Trot, and he took the TVG final at season’s end. You can’t privilege a reliable preferred performer like Slip Into Glide over him.

JK She’salady is the only viable Horse of the Year candidate. She won that award by a narrow margin in the US, but much of her opposition, Sweet Lou, Shake It Cerry, Father Patrick and Sebastian K are all horses that failed to make three starts in Canada, so none of them qualify for the O’Brien. McWicked does but he only received two HOY votes. JK She’salady won the Three Diamonds, Eternal Camnation and Shes A Great Lady in Ontario. This one’s a no brainer.

Joe FitzGerald


Tuesday, December 23, 2014

The 2014 VFTRG Awards

An exciting year of racing is coming to an end.  While the major awards have been given out, there are still some awards to be handed out, in particular the first VFTRG awards.  So without further delay, here are the winners:

Most Thrilling Debut of the Year Award
 - Swedish import Sebastian K, who on May 10, 2014 in the Cutler Memorial woke up the standardbred world with a sparkling 1:50.1 victory in the Cutler Memorial Prep, his first race other than a qualifier.  To have a horse show such a line just off of one qualifier to start the season was eye opening.  He was hot through August where he won 8 out of 9 starts, including an all-time track record of 1:49 on the Pocono Down oval before he became mortal.

Thanks for Stopping By Award - Another import, Commander Crowe, whose third visit to North America was much more profitable than his prior two visits as he won the Breeders Crown Open Trot on his third attempt.  Prior to that effort, he finished second in the Yonkers International Preview, resulting in a two race earnings total of $312,500.

The Award that is Going to Get Me in Trouble Award - In my book, Ron Burke should have been trainer of the year.  No denying Jimmy Takter had a great year, but for Burke to have a year like he had on the Grand Circuit as well as with his overnight horses says a lot.  I know some people are suspicious of the Burke Stable.  I sure don't like how he seems to have cornered the market, but to run an operation like his and be so successful this year, which has to mean something.

Track with the Biggest Heart Award - A surprising winner in Red Shores Charlottetown, who for the third year in the row was a silver sponsor of HANA Harness' handicapping contest to benefit standardbred rescues.  No, they weren't a gold sponsor but considering the size of the racetrack, it was a very generous donation, putting other tracks to shame.  Other than the Meadowlands, Northfield Park, Tioga Downs and Vernon Downs who were gold sponsors, the dearth of track sponsors at any level  says a lot.

Oops, I Should Have Thought Twice Award - Goes to Jeff Gural for his short-lived banishment of Brian Sears from his tracks for choosing to race at Yonkers of the Meadowlands.  For once, Gural met overall derision for his decision which brings us to....

Never Mind Moment Award - The lifting of the Brian Sears exclusion once it was realized that the banishment of Sears was ill advised.

Rising Star Award - This year's winner is Racing Under Saddle; Racing Under Saddle Ontario to be precise.  They made it to the parimutuel state in Ontario and it was warmly received by the bettors; by certain horsemen in Ontario, not so much.  However, the public likes it and I see a future in it as more horses get trained for it and raced more frequently under saddle.

Horizon Award - Goes to RUS America.  With the USTA adopting formal rules, look for the sport to be treated more seriously by certain tracks and states allowing wagering on it.  Hey, RUS is something Jeff Gural and Joe Faraldo agree on.  That doesn't happen too often so it has the support.   Look for more RUS racing with wagering coming later in 2015 or in 2016.

Equal Opportunity Denied Award - Goes to Stacy Chiodo who could be a very good driver if other trainers and owners would give her a chance to drive.  Right now, Chiodo basically drives her own racing stock  and while she has only 9 wins out of 120 starts, she finished in the money 36 times out of those 120 starts; 30% of the time.  One thing about harness racing, while it welcomes women trainers, it is pretty hostile towards women drivers.  That has to stop.  The runners now accept women riders willingly, it is time for harness racing to welcome women on the track.

No Good Deed Goes Unpunished Award - The winner is Joe Bongiorno who in a pre-race interview mentioned that he was instructed to drive a horse conservatively because he was aimed for some stakes race.  For his good deed, he got pulled from two other mounts that evening.  His crime?  Telling the truth.  How many other horses are raced conservatively in a race aiming for a future race that we don't know about?  Conservatively doesn't mean stiff; it means don't race bravely as in trying to cut the fractions.  Bongirono is okay in my book and I wish him continued success.  

It Could be Worse Award - The winner is Lou Pena who has been exiled to Pennsylvania.  No, he isn't earning the $7 million a year in his heyday but a record of 492-97-70-69 (a UTR of 0.323) with earnings of $945,347 isn't so bad.  Besides, it beats racing for the paltry purses at Cal Expo.  

Boot Baby Boot Award - Quite a few drivers were considered but the winner was David Miller who complained about a $750 fine handed down by Delaware judges for his 'nudging' of McWicked in the Progress Stake at Dover Downs.  A secondary award, the Foot in Mouth Award is also awarded to Miller for saying he would take a $750 fine every time as it is really not a deterrent.  Of course, that brings us to the....

We'll See About That Award - Goes to Jeff Gural who issued an edict that any driver at the Meadowlands who violates the kicking rule at the Meadowlands gets a 7 day suspension and any driver who gets a boot violation may find themselves banished from his three tracks.  A great rule; let's see how quick the welcome mat is pulled on a name driver.

Brother, Can You Spare a Dime Award - Goes to the racetrack duo of Balmoral Park and Maywood Raceway who find themselves on the verge of filing for bankruptcy as a result of a lawsuit victory by the casinos who had to support thoroughbred and standardbred tracks via legislation supported by Blago after attempting to secure a bribe (which never was paid).  Couple this attempt to reclaim the funds with the state continuing to refuse to support alternative gaming which may spell the end of racing in Illinois after 2015.

We Hardly Knew Ye Award - Goes to Colonial Downs which ceased operations after failing to come to agreement with the Virginia Thoroughbred Horsemen.  To the track's credit, they allowed the standardbred meet to finish before ceasing operations.

Can't Wait to See You Go Award - Goes to Thunder Ridge Raceway which will cease operations after the 2015 meet as the tracks has been sold to Keenland which will move the track and switch over to quarter horse racing.  The question is how many fans will be attending the final race card at Prestonburg?  The over/under is five.  Expect the handle for the entire meet to be around $125.

Enjoy Retirement Award - Goes to Cat Manzi who finally decided to retire after long career.  One accident too many was the cause of Cat's retirement, most likely the starting car mishap at Freehold was the straw which broke the camel's back.

Worst Drive Award - Actually goes to a starting gate; the starting gate at Freehold Raceway which on January 10 went into a horrifying spin during the race wiping out 6 out of 7 starters by sliding into the horses on the first turn.  Undetected ice was the suspected cause.

Unfortunate to be Stabled Together Award - Goes to the horse who had the misfortune of being stablemates with a star and it goes to Nuncio, who had the misfortune of being in the same stable as Father Patrick.  If the two were in different stables, Nuncio may have had more opportunities to race against Father Patrick and sink or swim.  If in different stables, we may have had a different 3 year old trotter of the year.

Hatfield/McCoy Award - This is a joint award and goes to both Jimmy Takter and Ake Svanstedt for Takter's objection to Svanstedt's driving ability.  Thanks to this dispute, it will be interesting whenever these two drive together.  If nothing else, a new word has been added to the racing vernacular, so look for the term 'pricked' in the comment line.  

Cowtown Rodeo Award - If you think Takter's description of Svandstedt was bad, could you imagine the words Joe Bongiorno and Jack Baggitt Jr. were thinking of each other after the 10th race on June 14th at the Meadowlands where Bongiorno held his ground against Baggitt by not giving him a tuck after being locked in a speed duel.  In the days of Dan Patch and Greyhound, it would have been called schooling and standing your ground.  These days it is called a trip to the stewards.

Experiment of the Year Award - Goes to Yonkers Raceway and PMU for Sunday morning simulcasting of 5 races to Europe via the French Hub.  The horsemen at Yonkers agreed to 1 1/4 mile races and 12 horse fields and it was well received with between $1.2 and $1.75 million dollars wagered on the five races in Europe.  The experiment will be expanded in 2015 but the next step is to co-mingle the pools.

Come South Young Man Award - Well 43 may not be young, but the award goes to Trevor Henry anyway who plies his trade primarily at The Raceway at Western Fair District and on the WEG circuit.  This year, Henry has a 0.358 UDR with 463 victories out of 1960 pari-mutuel starts.  This man can drive and it would certainly be interesting to see him try his luck south of the border in the States.  

Biggest Stiff of the Year Award - Goes to the site selection team of the NYSGC for denying the real Southern Tier of New York State a casino, Tioga Downs specifically.  While the Southern Tier can use the business and the expansion of gaming at a racetrack makes sense, they decided to award the casino license in the Finger Lakes area where they cannibalize the existing (Indian) casinos.  Clearly Jeff Gural's $1.8 million ($1 million filing fee, $800,000 towards the campaign to get casino gaming legalized) gamble was merely a donation to the state and never had a chance.  Of course, the joke may yet be on the state because the Seneca tribe has announced plans to build another casino 14 miles from Syracuse which will allow them to cannibalize the new state-approved casino (as long as on Indian land, the native Americans need no approvals from the state).

Sticking It Out Award - Goes to Penn National Gaming for remaining committed to Rosecroft despite losing its bid to open a casino at Rosecroft.  Many expected Rosecroft to shut down ala Suffolk Downs once Rosecroft was denied a gaming license, but they are committed to racing at Rosecroft for at least five years.  Hopefully, they will be rewarded for it.

What Just Happened Award - The winner is Hazel Park and Northville Downs.  Both tracks committed to the runners and gave the standardbreds an eviction notice; seemingly a victory for the HBPA.  Lo and behold, the trotters will be back next year despite the fact the runners will still be at Hazel Park.  Not exactly sure what happened but at least the trotters will be racing next year somewhere else besides Sports Creek Raceway (no offense meant).

Tough as Nails Award - Goes to Cal Expo.  Harness racing in California has been down and out so many times but it refuses to die.  This coming weekend, Cal Expo finally returns to a three night a week schedule, the first time in a long time.  Now if they can get purses up and improve the racing stock, it could be a nice meet.

Monday, December 22, 2014

New Years Resolutions For 2015

New Year’s Resolutions for 2015


Ron Pierce: In February, when I decided to drive at Yonkers on the weekends, so I could buy groceries and make my alimony payments, Jeff Gural said he was sorry to see me leave the Meadowlands, but that I was “at the tail end of a distinguished career.” My horses will earn more than $11 million this year. I’ll finish in third behind Yannick and Timmy. I’m gonna have another great year in 2015, with all those snot nosed punks chasing me around the track and Jeff Gural eating his words—again.

Always A Virgin: I intend to find a way out of Indiana in 2015. I’m about to turn eleven and, with limited opportunities, as the folks who write the stallion ads are want to say, I’ve proven myself to be a Grand Circuit stallion. Miki won the Tattersalls Pace and the Bluegrass and Colors A Virgin took the Jugette and the Nadia. I’m sick of working with marginal—when I’m lucky—mares, and I definitely deserve more than $4,000 a shot. Pennsylvania, New York and Ontario are all on my list of acceptable destinations. I’ll even go to Ohio if nothing else comes up. Better move on my demands, or you’ll be covering those mares yourself.

Bettor’s Delight: My resolution for 2015 is to put some roots down. I was top dog in New York, just as I’ve been top dog nationally for the past few year, but the geniuses who run Blur Chip Farms decided to ship me off to drama central—Ontario. They slid my little brother Joe into my spot, but a look at the results from his first sale say: not so good. So, when the bottom fell out in Canada I was relocated to Pennsylvania. Now that things have stabilized a bit in Ontario, I’m back there. Crazed, who isn’t a pimple on my butt, returned to New York, but Cheddar and I got deported.

Ron Burke: I find it hard to believe that so many seem to think Takter deserves to unseat me as Trainer of the Year off what he’s done with his little boutique stable. My horses have started more than 5,000 times, seven times as many starts as his little stable. I’m gonna break my 1,090 wins record and I’m already $2 million ahead of my own earnings mark. Takter’s horses made about 700 starts this year. I could keep track of that many while sleeping. In 2015 I’m gonna start 6,000 races and earn $35 million. Let’s see them deny me then.

Donato Hanover: I’ve had a very good year; I was voted into the HOF, my numbers were up at both Lexington and Harrisburg, and my daughter Shake It Cerry was voted Trotter of the Year.  So, what do I want in the coming year? I want a son I can be proud of. My fillies have been very god but the boys have been slackers. I resolve to have one of my sons, preferably more than that, make me proud in 2015. My oldest are about to turn six and Possess The Will, a one year wonder from my first crop, is still my most accomplished son. Shake It Cerry and Check Me Out are super stars; Designed To Be, Mistery Woman, Real Babe, Royal Assets and Livininthefastlane have all raced very well. Uncle Lasse and The Bank won splits of the Bluegrass and Your So Vain took the Hambletonion Maturity, but that pales in comparison to what their paternal sisters have done. I’m getting a complex and a reputation as a “filly sire.” I don’t want either of those things. Let’s go boys!

Ake Svanstedt: I made a lot of enemies this year. I parked Yannick early in the campaign and he’s still mad about it. A lot of other drivers think I’m unpredictable on the track; they want a letter in the mail telling them when I’m coming out.   Good, I want to to be unpredictable. Jimmy called me a prick for closing a hole on Maven. He’ll see what a prick I am when Sebastian is trotting away from Patrick and Nuncio next year.

Father Patrick: Breed and race concurrently. Say what? Talk about trying to get blood from a stone. Why doesn’t Gural mind his own business so I can enjoy the working retirement as a stallion I’ve earned. Yeah, I know, Sebastian already does that. So what, he’s a Euro. And besides, look how short he was the last third of the season. No thanks. Make your choice: I can race or I can breed. I’ll do one or the other in 2015.

Somebeachsomewhere: So, my fee was cut by $5,000, it’s still higher than any other pacing stallion. My book is still open, despite the discount, but that’s no reason for everyone to shoot me sideways glances. Captaintreacherous was a great colt and I’m sure he won’t disappoint as a stallion. Others? Limelight Beach won the Jug, didn't he? Sunshime Beach won the Battle of Brandy. Somewhere In LA? Best two-year-old prospects? I’d have to get back to you on that. I intend to have a couple of hot sons come to the fore in 2015. I need to get these critics and skeptics off my back.

Casie Coleman: Is there anybody out there who has not noticed how fabulous I look? I didn’t think so. I’m fourth on the trainer’s money list, with fewer than 450 starts; my colt McWicked won a Dan Patch; my stallion Sportswriter, who I made a big bet on at the sales last year, crushed the opposition in the OSS freshman pacing class; and, If I’m repeating myself, please forgive, I look fabulous. My resolution is to look even more fabulous next year.

JK She’salady: How does Horse of the Year in consecutive years sound? The fillies will spend the year chasing my big butt around, and the boys will do the same when I win the Pace. Artspeak? That wimp. The crew of nursemaids he’s hooked up with are more interested in him as stallion than as a racehorse. He’ll be soft as baby poo come Pace Day. And I don’t see crooked-ass In The Arsenal beating me around the track. He’s liable to head for the grandstand during the stretch call. Sears will have white hair by the time that screwball gets through with him. At least that guy who was yelling at me in French isn’t sittin back there anymore. I speak Swedish and English—Je ne comprends pas.

Joe FitzGerald





Saturday, December 20, 2014

Saturday Briefs

There was an interesting interview with Jeff Gural about the casino site selection decision in the Finger Lakes/Southern Tier region after he had time to reflect on the decision.  Tioga Downs is safe, Vernon has at least two years before its continued profitability is determined and possible closing may come.

On the Thoroughbred side, negotiations between horsemen and Suffolk Downs broke down so it looks like there will be no racing in 2015 in East Boston.  Suffolk Downs is lobbying the state to have them change the law to allow simulcasting without live racing.  Good luck to them on that for even if the state legislature goes along with it, how many horsemen groups are going to allow their signal to be exported to the track?  Most likely any simulcasting will be primarily greyhound and standardbred.

While Brockton Fairgrounds is willing to host a thoroughbred meet, the HBPA has told the Massachusetts Gaming Commission that they don't want to race on a 5/8 mile track.  While I can understand their preference for a mile track, beggars shouldn't be choosy.  Racing on a bull ring is better than nothing.

Congratulations Spider M who is finally retiring from racing at the age of 15.  That's right, while the mandatory retirement age is 14, Spider's connections managed to get a one year extension by the judges at Fraiser Downs after the horse went through a physical because he loved competing.  Granted, his extra year has not been successful, a record of 12-0-1-1, earning $1,447.  One has to love a competitive horse who keeps on racing.  Best wishes on your retirement.

While Spider M has not been successful with his extra year, one has to wonder if the rules need to be changed in an effort to fight a shortage of horses.  If owners wish to race their horses past retirement age, there should be a way for judges to approve an extension on an annual basis after an extensive physical.  However, to protect the public, the judges should have the ability to rule off a horse if they feel it is not competitive even if they meet qualifying time.  To even things out, race secretaries should card races for the senior circuit, horses aged 10 and up.

The current edition of Trot magazine celebrates its 40th anniversary and highlights the biggest events of the last 40 years which occured primarily in Canada.  One thing which struck me was how many tracks closed over the last 40 years.   How it must have been going to tracks like Garden City now a memory.  Windsor Raceway an 'A' track along with Flamboro Downs.  If racing in Canada was like what we had back then at Yonkers and Rooeveilt, it must have been a great time.  A time which unfortunately will never come back due to the change in the public's preferences.

Have a great Saturday.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Shafter (California) Memories

by Peter Lawrence, VFTRG Contributor

If the audience isn't already tired of the many mentions of my time as Hall of Famer Joe O'Brien's administrator - I signed on for that at age 22! - here's a little more.
The main stable "wintered" in Shafter, California for some six, or more, months a year (hence the "winter" quotes), roughly October through April, and a highlight of that sizable stretch of time was our matinee barbeque and race day, a charity event held in conjunction with the local Lion's Club.
I mention all this since I recently found a program from the 1980 edition, along with (how unbelievably handy?) some photos from that day.
It was on a Sunday, Feb. 24, and we had a huge crowd at the farm. Some were racing industry people, but most were "regular" people from the community.
Guests included Pres Jenuine and Lloyd Arnold, our main owner Thurman Downing, most likely Charlie Armstrong, and maybe Jack Baugh.
I served as clerk of course ... code for a little of everything behind the scenes.
(I forget if Baugh attended in '79 or '80. Maybe it was both.)
We put on six races - okay, they were really training sets, but without pre-determined winners - plus a race for pacing ponies at five-eighths of a mile, once around the track.
FFA trotting mare Ima Lula was the day's star, as she was many times in her great career, and she won for driver Chan Bayless - Joe's stepson and Stan's brother - in 2:05.2, unofficially home in :30.1.
(Yeah, those times do sound pretty quaint today, don't they?)


Classified System on the Way Out?  - The classified system being used at the Meadowlands was supposed to be used for a year and then be evaluated.  As part of that process, the SBOANJ commissioned a survey regarding the use of the ABC system.  Based on the results of the survey, it looks like the classified system will be on the way out as most trainers who responded claimed the classified system was not working for them for various reasons.  The survey lists some of those reasons.

Vernon Downs on the Ropes - Earlier I had made comments which may have suggested Vernon Downs would be closing shortly.  Truth is it appears Jeff Gural will wait until the Tyre casino opens and evaluate the impact.  If Vernon can support itself, he would be willing to keep it open but if it loses money, it will be history.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Go Figure...

In the first time in Dan Patch Awards history, the Horse of the Year was neither the Trotter or Pacer of the Year.  JK She'salady becomes the first two year old filly pacer to be named Horse of the Year, defeating Sweet Lou who was named the Pacer of the Year and Shake it Cerry who was selected as Trotter of the Year.

The voters had to select from one of their choices of Pacer or Trotter of the Year which permitted this victory.  Sweet Lou beat out JK She'salady by one vote for Pacer of the Year, but lost the Horse of the Year because more of Sweet Lou's supporters defected in favor of their Trotter of the Year selection.

The SOA and standarbred horsemen from the other associations were handed a defeat by the highest court in  New York who by a vote of 6-0 determined the NYSGC may mandate Out of  Competition Testing.  Since the rule was modified since originally issued in an attempt to address horsemen's concerns, the court didn't rule on the specifics of the old 2009 and new 2014 rules but they ruled the NYSGC has the right to propagate such a rule.  Hence, barring anything absurd, I find it hard to believe the 2014 rule will be knocked down, despite the fact the SOA has instituted a new lawsuit regarding the rule.

However, it was noted in the decision that the thoroughbred horsemen also had an out of competition rule passed but they never challenged it.  While the standardbred horsemen have the right to challenge their version of the rule, does one have to wonder why some people have a problem with harness integrity?

Vernon Downs Days are Numbered?

In an initial response from Jeff Gural, he indicates Vernon Downs is now living on borrowed time as a result of the decision to build a casino in the Finger Lakes.  He further goes on to suggest the Lago Resort and Casino proposal probably means the end of racing at Finger Lakes as well.  As quoted“I’m probably going to stop. It’ll hurt me at Vernon eventually. I wouldn't be surprised if Finger Lakes closes". Elsewhere it is reported that Tioga Downs will go on as it currently is.  

As smart as the selection board was by not authorizing a casino in Orange County, for the possibility it will cannibalize the downstate casinos and cripple a casino in Sullivan County, it seems at the surface it hurts the Indian casinos upstate as well as two racetracks.  I must admit, I wonder how they can get it so right in the Catskill-Hudson Valley Region and get it so wrong in the Finger Lakes-Southern Tier region?  

It will be interesting to read the site selection board's full report on their selection process due a month from now.  One thing which hurt Tioga's proposal was the fact it had done so much development ahead of time in anticipation of a casino as the board mentioned a big factor was the amount of money to be invested in developing a casino which makes the amount of money to be invested at Tioga a lot less than the other proposals.  

So the question must be asked how much longer does Vernon Downs have?  One would imagine the track will remain open until the Lago Resort opens up.  Will someone seek to purchase the track, probably not.

So with Vernon Downs on life support, the question becomes what happens to the race days at Vernon?  As you are aware, Vernon Downs opens before and closes after Tioga Downs' meet which is oriented to the summer months.  I fear short of the NYGC mandating Tioga to pick up additional race dates, those dates will be lost.  Tioga's per capita is anemic to be polite and with the economic condition of the area, there seems little which can be done to stimulate wagering on track; any gain will have to come from those who take the exported signal.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Will Split Vote Determine Horse of the Year?

In recent years the Horse of the Year race has been singularly lacking in suspense and drama. Last year the undefeated trotting filly, Bee A Magician, won the award with 78% of the vote. In 2012 it was world record holder Chapter Seven with 64%. San Pail dominated with 85% in 2011, while Rock N Roll Heaven swept the vote in 2010. Muscle Hill received 97% in 2009 and the previous year SBSW crushed Dewey with 77% of the vote.

Some years, and this was certainly the case back in the day when there were many more voters, the votes were cast in what one could call a splash pattern: the winner benefited from the fact that so many horses were deemed worthy of consideration. Geography played a pivotal role in the voting at that time.

 In 1954 Stenographer was designated the eighth Horse of the Year and the first sophomore trotter to receive that honor. The filly established six world records and won 23 heats. Oddly enough, Scott Frost, the sport’s first two-minute two-year-old trotter, received one more first place vote, but lost the election on points. Adios Boy, Kimberly Kid, Red Sails, Katie Key, Philip Scott, Adios Harry, Pronto Don and Phantom Lady all received first place votes in 1954, and hence contributed to the win by Stenographer.

In 1974 Delmonica Hanover, who won the Prix d’Amerique and Roosevelt International that year, won Horse of the Year honors with 25% of the vote. Armbro Nesbit, Handle With Care, Armbro Omaha and Dream Of Glory each ate up a large chunk of votes below her. Those four split 54% of the votes, allowing the five-year-old Speedy Count mare to take the crown.

In 1977 Bill Haughton’s oddly gaited Speedy Rodney trotter, Green Speed, took Horse of the Year honors with 50% of the vote. He had won 16 times and took the Hambletonian and the Yonkers Trot. The following year he was syndicated for $3.2 million, but Hambletonian winner Duenna was his only top tier issue. Governor Skipper, who set a world record in the Jug got 33%, while seven-year-old Rambling Willie received 12%. Nine others also collected votes that year.

In 1984 we saw another example of the Horse of the Year—in this case, Fancy Crown—benefiting from the fierce competition for votes down below her. The Three-year-old Speedy Crown filly had won 13 of 21 starts, including the Kentucky Futurity, and she had trotted the fastest mile ever—1:53.4. She won her Horse of the Year crown with only 39% of the vote. Sophomore pacer On The Road Again had won 18 times and set a single season earnings record for the sport; he garnered 26% of the vote. And right behind him was two-year-old Nihilator, who won 12 of 13 and set a world record in the Wilson. Baltic Speed, Colt Fortysix, Dragon’s Lair and Davidia Hanover also got votes in 1984.

This year the favorite is the freshman pacing filly, JK She’salady, The winner of all 12 starts, with a 1:50.1 world record taken at Mohawk to her credit. She may become the first in her class to capture Horse of the Year honors, thanks to splash voting. For much of the season it was assumed that Sebastian K, the world record holder thanks to a 1:49 mile at Pocono Downs, was a shoe-in for that title. But then Sebastian, the first to trot four winning miles in under 1:50.3, lost his last four starts. Some voters will stay with him.

And Sweet Lou will also get votes. He set a world record of 1:47 on Sun Stakes Day at Pocono and at one point won ten in a row. Six of the ten consisted of consecutive sub-1:48 miles. It’s a foregone conclusion that Lou will win his division. He’ll be the first pacer to win his division at two and five. Sweet Lou earned $1.3 million this year. He’ll get votes.

Three of Jimmy Takter’s trotters, Father Patrick, Shake It Cerry and Nuncio will also draw Horse of the Year votes. Patrick won more money than any other in 2014. He won 11 of 15 starts and set a world record of 1:50.2 at Pocono. Stablemate Nuncio won the Kentucky Futurity and the Yonkers Trot, and many thought he would take the division if he had taken the Breeders Crown. And Shake It Cerry won 15 of 17 starts and more than $1.2 million. I believe all of the above will chew up votes allowing the freshman filly to emerge triumphant from a split vote. Regardless, a splash voting pattern will no doubt help determine the winner.

Joe FitzGerald


The Winner is Monticello Raceway. The Losers are Tioga, Vernon Downs and Saratoga Raceway

The New York Gaming Facility Location Board has announced the winners of the valued casino licenses.

Montreign Resort and Casino owned by Empire Resorts which operates Monticello Raceway is the big winner in the Catskill/Hudson Valley Region.  With Empire Resorts getting the gaming license, horse racing at Monticello will continue for at least the next nine years.  While it was expected that two licenses would be issued in Ulster-Sullivan-Orange County, the board decided to award only one license and discounted Orange County because it would cannibalize existing slot parlors and negatively impact any casino in the Catskills.

In the Capital Region, the winner is Rivers Casino and Resort at Mohawk Harbor, in Schenectady.  This means Saratoga Raceway and its two different partners, was shut out in its quest to obtain a casino license.  It is likely this will cannibalize Saratoga Raceway's VLTs as there is less than 30 miles between the two locations.  However, the law calls for the new casino to subsidize purses at the raceway to make up any shortfalls from cannibalization.  So while horsemen are expected to be made whole, the Raceway is expecting a 40% drop off in business which will  result in a loss of jobs at the track/racino.  The question will be if the racino can keep up with its debt service.

In the Finger Lakes/Southern Tier  region, Tioga Downs and Vernon Downs takes a blow as Lago Resort and Casino in Tyre (nearer Syracuse, NY), the board turning down Tioga Downs' proposal.  As disappointing as it will be for Tioga Downs, with roughly 85 miles between Tyre and Nichols, the cannibalization should not be as great as it would have been if the Legends Proposal was approved.  Make no mistake, the Gural team will be disappointed.  It remains to be seen what the impact will be on Tioga and Vernon Downs in the long run.

USHWA Dan Patch Pacing Winners

The winners of the Dan Patch award by the writes of the USHWA was announced today and it basically leaves us with one question.

Who was the one person who voted against JK She'salady for 2yo pacing filly?  I guess going 12 for 12 doesn't cut it anymore.  Other than that, the voting was less questionable.  A rare tie betweeen Androvette and Rocklamation for older pacing mare  splits the honor between the two horses, each getting 51 votes out of the 157 eligible votes.  Sweet Lou was the aged male pacer, getting all but 3 votes cast in his favor.

On the sophomore side, Mcwicked and Color's A Virgin were overwhelming winners of 3 year old honors while on the two year old male side, Artspeak was the victor.

Tomorrow we learn who the trotter, pacer of the years are as well as horse of the year.  My guess is JK She'salady will grab honors for pacer of the year while Father Patrick takes the trotting award,  My guess is Father Patrick will take overall top honors as horse of the year.

Chicago Racing Going Under?

It is ironic, but a bill to help Chicago's harness racing tracks may be their undoing as it is expected that both Balmoral Park and Maywood Park will be filing for bankruptcy after an $80 million judgement against their owner, who apparently was shaken down by former Governor Blagojevich to get casino payments for tracks.  The hope is the tracks will be able to race after their expected Chapter 11 action if their negotiations with the casinos aren't productive.  However, being these casinos would love to see horse racing gone, the possibility of racing not being conducted does exist and is more than a longshot possibility.  The IRB has ordered expedited payments owed to the thoroughbred tracks so payments will be made prior to a bankruptcy filing.

Now for some Wednesday Briefs.....

The Dan Patch awards for trotters were named yesterday and Sebastian K was named aged trotter of the year yesterday by the USHWA.  While his victory doesn't surprise me, I am somewhat surprised by the margin, being first choice on 144 of 157 ballots.  On the aged mare trotter of they year, it was Classic Martine taking down the hardware, defeating Maven by being named on 91 of the ballots.

As for the younger horses, Team Takter had a hat trick with Father Patrick (3yo male trotter), Shake It Cerry (3yo filly trotter) and Pinkman (2yo male trotter),  With regards to the 2yo filly trotter, Team Burke gets its only entry with Mission Brief.

I have no arguments with the selections made and we'll see how we do with pacing awards being announced today.  On Thursday, trotter and pacer of the year winners will be announced as well as horse of the year.

If I had a vote, as much as I love Sebastian K, I think I would have to name Father Patrick as the trotter of the year although a case could be made for either.

The Confederation Cup returns to Flamboro Downs in 2015 although it will now be a race for 4 year olds in the early part of the season, helping to make racing for 4 year olds lucrative as they need to continue to order for their first crop to be eligible for stakes races.

EL Titan joins Father Patrick in the 'You Can Have it All' program as it is announced that Riina Rekilia's soon to be 4 year old will be returning in 2015 to  race and breed as a 4 year old.  Hopefully this is a new trend in having horses do double duty, not just as a 4 year old to get around the 'Gural Rule' and have their foals from their first season at stud  eligible for stakes races but perhaps in future years.

From Australia, here is an article labeled "Where Have Our Customers Gone?'.  While it is written
with regards to greyhound racing, pretty much what is said can be said for horse racing.  It is worth a read.

While we bemoan the decline of harness racing in the United States, it is nice to read about a revival of the sport in Ireland with the help from Le Trot.  This makes good business sense for not only does it improve the sport in Ireland, it helps develop a new market for PMU to simulcast its races to.  A win-win effort.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

If You Thought a Fine Was Unfair.....

If Dave Miller was unhappy about his $750 fine for nudging  in the Progress Stake at Dover Downs, he is going to love the new policy going into effect at the Meadowlands starting Friday night and Tioga Downs and Vernon Downs once they re-open.  

Starting this weekend, those who violate NJRC 13:71-20.15 with regards to kicking will find themselves with a 7 day suspension.  In addition to the suspension, violating the rule may find drivers on the outside looking in at the three Gural-operated racetracks (some boards have it a mandatory expulsion which is incorrect).  Drivers who get a $100 or $200 fine for using the boot elsewhere may also find themselves on the outside.

Now realistically, I don't see any of the name drivers getting excluded the first time they run afoul of the rule; and I believe the same standard will apply to lesser known drivers.  However, one hopes the threat of exclusion doesn't remain that, a policy which never will be implemented.  Kicking, nudging, or whatever you want to call it is unacceptable.  We can debate whether or not a horse feels pain from getting the 'boot' (it certainly isn't pleasant), but drivers who violate the rule while others obey it are not getting the most out of their horses, they are cheating.  In addition, the visual is certainly improper.

[I must admit I am curious to know what happens in the event a driver violates the quoted rule not related to the improper use of the foot such as using the whip under the seat of the sulky (i.e., between the horses legs) as that too is an unpleasant visual for obvious reasons.]

Even without the threat of losing driving privileges, a suspension of seven days carries a lot more weight than a fine for while the Meadowlands races only two or three days a week depending on the time of year, not being able to drive elsewhere the rest of the week is going to hurt drivers in the pocket more so than a mere fine.

What makes this new policy even bolder is the fact some drivers, are going to pack up and head elsewhere instead of racing at the Meadowlands, especially those who have been on the fence regarding racing at the Meadowlands or more lucrative tracks.  This is a case of right winning out over short term interests..    

PTP talks about how Jeff Gural is standardbred racing's de facto commissioner.  He may just be right.