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Saturday, January 31, 2015

Paying the Price for Integrity?

It's no secret that Jeff Gural and his team at the Meadowlands (and other racing properties) has been doing their best in providing the best in harness racing.  Of course, with purse money being solely a factor of wagering, even being the highest wagered harness track in the United States it is hard to attract horses to race at the Meadowlands thanks to tracks racing almost exclusively on slot money.   As a result, the focus has been on providing a product with integrity, ruling off trainers and even owners who don't cut the grade for various reasons.  While in the long run providing a product with the highest standards may be the way to go, it appears management is paying the price for its integrity drive in the short term.

It's no secret the Meadowlands has been scrambling all year to put on racing programs; holding the entry box open longer, adding classes, and cavorting trainers to enter horses.  No doubt the about to expire classified system has hurt this year, but to blame it on the classified system alone would be unfair, after all last year there was no problem filling winter races using the classified system,, So where has things fallen of the rail?

The incentive program has hurt to some degree, smaller stables finding themselves unable to take advantage due to the racing stock they had last year didn't fit the classes offered or the fact they lacked the sheer number of horses to make the necessary starts.  Certainly, the 10% purse cut recently put in place has put a damper on things as well.  But perhaps the biggest culprit has been the exclusion of certain trainers from competing at the Meadowlands.

Perhaps the thought was once a trainer was shown the door, owners would seek out new trainers to compete in New Jersey.  However, owners have not done that on any wholesale level; either because the charges against their trainers were 'vague'; they were loyal to the trainers; or they 'don't want to know' what was going on as long as they are successful.  Of course, purses matter as well.  Why race your $12,500 claimer at the Meadowlands for $7,000 when you can race the same horse at Yonkers for $9,000 and only have to beat three horses to earn a check?  Not quite an incentive to switch to an approved trainer in East Rutherford.

So now with the input of the SBOANJ, the incentive program has been cancelled and conditioned racing returns.  Hopefully, this will make it easier to fill the entry box as it will give trainers an incentive to head over the bridge to compete in races they feel their horses will do well in as well as offer more claiming events.

One thing the Meadowlands should not do is lessen their demand for integrity for in the long run, it will win out.  As for the customers, they can vote for integrity by supporting the Meadowlands at the windows.

Friday, January 30, 2015

Horsemen Strangling the Sport with Boredom

The once nightly 1 1/8 mile race at the Meadowlands is no more thanks to an agreement with the SBOANJ and the Meadowlands along with its corresponding two starters in the second tier. At the same time, comes the demise of the once-heralded classified system which brought a great customer response according to press releases.  Truth be told, while I am a fan of the classified system, I understand the horsemen's complaint.  The C-2 class seems to have become a catch-all for many horses making it hard for some horses to have a decent chance to compete.  Perhaps expanding the classes to allow for X-3s may have helped or it may have been a reliance on the lower classes to help manage the purse account which resulted in stuffing the class but it apparently has became a problem which needed to be addressed.  So conditioned racing returns next week with non-winners of $5,000 in the last five starts being the bottom condition level and $10,000 claimers being the bottom of the claiming wrung.  (Read Dean Towers' thoughts in HRU on this subject).

What frustrates me is the disappearance of the 'distance' races and the trailers.  Yes, the mile has been the standard distance for eons and trailers have been eschewed for years but let's not kid ourselves, is an extra 1/8th of a mile going to matter that much for the horses?  Is two horses in the second tier with an extra 1/8th of a mile to compete so heinous?  Perhaps it is inconvenient for the horsemen but clearly gamblers are looking for greater payoffs which distance races and extra starters can provide but what does the customer have to do with it?

Now, I am sure the horsemen at Yonkers prefer the same old type of racing too, but in order to make their product attractive to European audiences they agreed to race at a distance of 1 1/4 mile with up to four trailers in their races and the response abroad has been overwhelming positive.  They recognized what the overseas audience wanted and they gave them it.  In addition, the distance racing has changed the flow of racing and made it more exciting, even to the point Americans were getting used to the new format (though races not sent abroad are raced at the traditional mile distance with no second tier).  (Thoroughbred Racing Commentary discusses the Yonkers-France experiment)

There have been times I have not been complimentary of the New York horsemen but in this case, they are ahead of the curve.  The future of harness racing is a global approach and sooner or later North America needs to join the global trotting community.

To think this was a sport where one once saw sixteen two year old trotters competing in stake races at the Meadowlands.  What happened?  No doubt the expense of racing has become much greater making owners and horsemen seek to get every advantage they can or at least eliminate perceived disadvantages but by doing so, the sport is slowly dying, dying of boredom.

Yes, we tend to be North American-centric when it comes to racing, but when the rest of the trotting world welcomes distance racing, handicapped racing with second tiers, different types of starts, and even RUS, isn't it time to think we may be doing something wrong and it is time to re-evaluate the product?

No doubt slot revenue allows horsemen to stand pat but as guardians of the sport, don't they have a responsibility to do what they can to make the sport more attractive to the existing and new generation?  It is time for horsemen to take stock of themselves and decide if they wish the sport to flourish or become further irrelevant.  One hopes they choose flourish.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Tuesday Morning Briefs

In a little more old news, the NYSGC casino site selection committee voted to reopen bidding for a casino license in the Southern Tier of New York which gives Tioga Downs another chance to get a full casino.  The opposing plan for a casino at Traditions has been folded in support of Tioga Downs with Gural apparently agreeing to reimburse some of the Traditions expense should Tioga be successful.

While other bidders may arise, it appears Tioga Downs has a clear shot as the previous awarding of a casino in the Finger Lakes area is far out of the 'true' Southern Tier.  Forgetting, whether Tioga Downs is the eventual winner, the Southern Tier is in need of an economic stimulus as was Sullivan County.

In the DRF, Derick Giwner talks about Brett Revington's changes at Pompano Park to make it a more relevant product.  Revington, who while at Red Shores Charlottetown was a supporter of HANA Harness' handicapping contests to benefit horse rescue has realized the value of getting Pompano's races on TVG on slow nights which has increased handle by 34%.  Why more tracks don't attempt to get their signal on TVG or other racing channels puzzles me.  Yes, you can bet the track online and watch the video on your computer, but it is a big stimulus when you put the signal in front of someone's face rather than having them seek it out.  

Meanwhile, while Pompano's improvement is not to be ignored, Cal Expo handled over $660,000 this past Sunday evening with 10 races on the card.  No doubt, the late start gives them a certain amount of exclusivity but one can wonder how they would do with a better caliber of racing stock.  However, even with the $600k+ handles, they suffer like most tracks with the majority of handle coming from off track.  

Over in the thoroughbred world, where some think all is lily white, media marketing may end up costing a jockey his career as a photo finish in Texas allegedly shows a jockey with a buzzer in his hand as they cross the finish line at Sam Houston Race Track.  The rider claims the battery was photoshopped into the picture.   We will see what happen but the camera appears to be all the evidence they need.  The jockey is now facing felony charges.

Exchange Wagering? - Did you know NJ is in the process of formalizing the rules for Exchange Wagering?  Granted things move slowly in the Garden State when the rules need to be approved by the Office of the Attorney General.  I wouldn't quite hold your breath to place your first bet.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Old News

First of all, thank to Joe FitzGerald for contributing to VFTRG during my extended 'absence'.  While Joe tends to look at harness racing from a different angle than I do, it is certainly opinions worth hearing.

With my return from my enforced 2 1/2 week hiatus, it is time to briefly look back at some old news that took place during this period.  Some of it may be done and over with, but some of the news is somewhat disturbing, especially with slots at the Meadowlands.

News Item - Meadowlands Holds Owner Responsible for Misplaced Loyalty.   Owner Richard Berthiaume has been banned from the Gural tracks due to his loyalty to trainer Corey Johnson after he was given an indefinite suspension in Ontario.  It turns out the two horses Johnson started in the Breeders Crown for Berthiaume apparently raced with excess Cobalt in their system.  Since then, the owner has changed trainers, but it is apparently to late for Berthiaume; at least for the foreseeable future.    I can see giving an owner a pass if the suspension was for a first time medication violation, but according to records, Johnson had a medication violation earlier in 2014.  While owners are certainly entitled to maximize their profits, it is about time they are held to a 'know who you employ' principle.

All being said, while I support Gural's usage of exclusion, it needs to be consistent no matter who may be ensnared.

News Item - Nuncio Goes Continental.  There will be no Father Patrick v. Nuncio duels this year baring a return for the Breeders Crown as Stefan Melander has decided to send his horse over to Sweden where he can race an entire season against 4 year olds instead of having to step up against older horses later in the year.  Is it a lose for racing?  Time will tell but it's Melander's horse so he is free to do what he pleases; hopefully done for the benefit of the horse and not a temper tantrum.

Gural and others are attempting to bring back more races for 4 year olds but they can only do so much; other tracks need to step up to the plate.  Perhaps then we can keep our four year olds racing against their own all year.

News Item - Atlantic City Race Course Packs it In.  Yes, it was thoroughbred racing and they raced only six days a year but the closing of ACRC is somewhat disturbing in that a facility which was primarily a large OTB couldn't make it go any further.  Some would say with Favorites in Vineland being open, it would serve the same market but it is a 40 minute drive between the two facilities.

News Item - Michigan Horsemen Pay to Race.  At Northville Downs, the upcoming meet requires horsemen to pay a 1% fee to start in a race.  Granted, a $25 to $75 fee isn't huge but in a state with limited racing opportunities, it is going to hurt some horse,men.  On the positive side, purse money will be paid through sixth place.   All is not bad.  Come March, late closing events exclusively for MI sired and bred horses will be contested; something sorely needed for Michigan horsemen.  Also on the plus side is a willingness to add 26 additional race dates to the 44 day meet if the purse account holds up.

News Item - Virginia Horsemen Unite.  With thoroughbred and standardbred horsemen in Virginia now out of a racing venue, the horsemen have formed an alliance which seeks to race at alternative sites (and possibly lease Colonial Downs) for a race meet geared towards Virginia breeding.  Of course, it is easier said as state law will need to change in order for this to happen.  While such alliances between the two breeds tend to be temporary, it is good to see they are able to work together to get their respective industries back up running.

Of course, Colonial Downs is looking to open on a limited basis with historical racing which would allow them to take the balance of the purse account remaining and spend it on high caliber races which will do nothing for Virginia racing and shut the standardbreds out.

News Item - Maven Bombs at Vincennes.  I know there is criticism about the attention being lavished on Maven and to some degree it is concerned.  That being said, few people decide to take on the expense and risks to compete against Europe's best.  For that reason, Maven deserves some accolades.  Besides, if the sport is going to continue to grow, horses need to head both ways over the Atlantic for the future is global.

News Item - End of Classified Racing at Meadowlands.  It was good while it lasted, but after consultations with the SBOANJ membership, the Meadowlands is scrapping classified racing and returning to conditioned racing.  Also, the trainers preference for those who supported spring and summer racing at the Meadowlands has been scrapped.  The changes should be reflected starting with racing as of February 5 with horsemen having a meeting Friday night.  As much as I personally loved classified racing, it was clear it was a struggle filling cards.

Sadly, the days of 12 horse fields and 1 1/8 mile races are concluding as well.  While the Meadowlands is not sending races to France, it is clear abandoning these races is a blow for making the Meadowlands product desirable overseas where overflow fields are welcomed.

Also of note is the purses for the lower classes has dropped with open $12,500 claimers racing for $7,000 with $10,000 NJSO claimers competing for a paltry $8.125.

News Item - About Slots at the Meadowlands.   Being a resident of New Jersey, pardon me for being cynical when it comes to slots coming to the Meadowlands.  Should slots come to the Meadowlands?  Yes.  Is the Meadowlands a logical location for a casino?  Yes.  So what is the concern?  The recent deal to shutter the Izod Arena at least through 2017 if not longer or permanently.  Granted, most concert events in Northern New Jersey have headed to the Prudential Arena in Newark, NJ and the Izod Arena has been losing money, but along with deciding to close the arena, it turns out the NJSEA made an agreement with the Newark arena which will limit the size and type of shows allowed at a reopened Izod Arena.

The point is don't underestimate the political power Essex (and Hudson) County holds sway over the state legislature so a casino in either of those counties over the Meadowlands i not out of the question.  Bergen County politicos need to be on their toes unless they want to see slots elsewhere.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

How Did Maven Get To Be The Star Of Stars?

Maven has been the darling of the harness racing press and a hefty chunk of the sport’s fan base for the past few months. She’s taken the crown from Foiled Again, who held that distinction for a couple of years. The six-year-old daughter of Glidemaster—the only top tier trotter that sire has produced in NA—only won four races during 2014, and only one of those was a grade one stakes race. She set a track record in winning the Muscle Hill at Vernon Downs in November. Her other three wins came in the Miami Valley Distaff in mid-May, a preferred trot at Pocono in August and the BC elimination at the Meadowlands.

Maven finished out in three legs of the Miss Versatility Series, which she won in 2013, and was third in the final at Delaware, which division champ Classic Martine won. She earned $333,027 between her dozen starts in NA and a pair in Europe. So what’s all the fuss about? Why is Maven the flame of the Twittersphere and the horse harness scribes have elevated to the top of the pile? Her pedestrian numbers during the past year scream journeyman in a slump—not superstar. Racing in Europe adds some panache to her resume, but she has one third place finish to show for five European starts last season and this.

Maven’s popularity obviously extends to the sales ring as she brought a record $750,000 bid from Herb Liverman at Harrisburg in November. And he already owned a piece of rival Bee A Magician. One of Maven’s problems is that Liverman is determined not to have the pair go head to head. That means Maven is stuck in Europe, or destined to take on the boys back home. Neither of those scenarios looks promising at the moment.

Contrast Maven’s overseas performance with the much less celebrated Arch Madness, who made eight starts in Europe during 2011, 2012 and 2013. He won two of them, the 2011 Oslo Grand Prix and a heat of the Elitlop. He finished second in the latter twice and was third three times in European races. Arch got some publicity for all of this, particularly in Canada, but Maven seems to be leaving him in the PR dust despite a much shorter record of accomplishment.

Something similar has been happening on the pacing side. Eleven-year-old Foiled Again is still the most popular pacer in NA. He was second to Sweet Lou in division earnings in 2014, thanks to making the board in 19 of 26 starts, but he had no grade one stakes wins. The Quillen was his only significant victory, and that one isn’t very important at this point. He won four legs of the Levy, then went winless for the season except for his Quillen elimination and final. In 2013 he was wildly popular and a candidate for Pacer of the Year, despite suffering 18 losses.

Foiled’s hook is excellence over many years, consistency and the money record for pacers that he holds. Maven was good at two and three, winning 15 times and earning more than $900,000, but she took a back seat to Check Me Out until the late fall of her sophomore campaign. She was the standout in her division at four, winning 10 times and banking more than a half million dollars, and had an off year in 2014. This exaltation on the part of fans and the press is curious. Some of it has to do with her newsworthy passage from Jonas Czernyson to Ron Burke to Jimmy Takter. And participating today in the premier race in France for last year’s trainer and driver of the year doesn’t hurt. But with each non-competitive loss on the Continent, we should get less cheerleading and more questions about why she has been placed on a pedestal.

Joe FitzGerald

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Stallion Relocation And Stud Fee Adjustments For 2015

The game of musical chairs involving stallions moving from one state or country to another for the 2015 season is just about over. And the same goes for stud fee adjustments. Here’s a rundown of what has transpired thus far.

It was just announced that fourteen-year-old Western Terror, a grandson of Delinquent Account and full brother to BC and Messenger winner If I Can Dream, will relocate within Pennsylvania at a reduced rate. He moves to Nandi Farms and will command a $5,500 stud fee, $2,000 less than last year. More Western Terror offspring were sold in Lexington than from any other stallion, but more isn’t always better. The 41 yearling consignment brought an average a shade over $15,000. Lots of red ink there. Tomy Terror (sic), Hall Of Terror and Do Your Job were his best young offspring in 2014.

Up The Credit, the richest son of gyno-centric Western Terror, will take another shot at the stallion game in 2015. The seven-year-old NA Cup winner, who mined the low to middle NW class at Mohawk until mid-summer, first stood at Seelster Farms in Ontario for $5,000 in 2012. It wasn’t long before he was back racing. He’ll now be offered for $3,000 at Casimir Farm in Ontario.

Six-year-old Heston Blue Chip, 2012 Dan Patch winner, and five-year-old Sunfire Blue Chip will be the first high profile sons of American Ideal to embark on stallion careers. Neither one of them lived up to their colt promise in the aged ranks; Heston won four races and earned $216,000 in 2014, while Sunfire won five and banked $168,000. Heston will stand for $4,500 at Winbak, New York and Sunfire will get $4,000 (Cdn.) at Tara Hills.

Twenty-year-old Dragon Again, who now resides in Ohio, has a penchant for producing hard hitting pacers that last a long time, but he has no record as a sire of sires. His son Aracache, who ground out $1.7 million in six years of racing, will stand at Ivy Lane Farm in Indiana for $2,500. Seventeen-year-old Real Desire, the sire of Tell All and State Treasurer, will also stand at Ivy Lane in 2015. He moves from Midland Acres, where he sported a $5,000 fee. He now stands for $3,500. Lots of fee reductions for lower end stallions this year. The Well Said four-year-old Tellitlikeitis, who didn’t earn enough to be covered by Gural’s stallion rule, will also stand in Indiana, at Victory Hill Farm for $3,000. So, Indiana, which hit the lottery with Always A Virgin and Rockin Image, doesn’t get a whole lot in the way of reinforcements. The latter two stallions remained at $4,000 and $3,500, respectively.

Ohio, which was already bursting at the seams, found room for a few more. The casinos in the Buckeye state are the best job plan in NA for Standardbreds. Uncle Peter, a son of Cantab Hall, will be the most expensive trotting stallion in the state at $6,000. Fifteen-year-old Broadway Hall, still one more expatriate from Pennsylvania, will stand at Midland Acres for $5,000. That’s a third less than he was getting last year. And 2015 BC winner Rockin Amadeus will stand at Cool Winds Farm in Ohio for $3,500.

Western Vintage, who only won once at three after showing much promise during his freshman campaign, will stand at Abby Stables in Ohio for $3,500. Mister Big, who failed to impress in Ontario, will also be at Abby. He stood for $4.500 at Tara Hills in Ontario last year, but will only get $2,500 in 2015. Jurgen Hanover, the Credit Winner five-year-old who looked like a budding star early in his sophomore season, also goes to Abby, for $2,500. What’s their motto, “Give us your wretched castoffs”?

Wishing Stone leaves Deo Volente in New Jersey, where he stood for $5,000, for Sugar Valley Farm in Ohio, where he’ll get $4,500. Trixton will take his place in New Jersey for a $12,000 fee. And of course Father Patrick will serve a one year residency at Walnridge Farm in New Jersey, at a hefty $30,000 per.


Archangel, who stood in New York for $4,000 in 2013, but drew so little interest that he returned to the track this past year, makes another run as a stallion at Winbak Canada for $4,500 (Cdn.). Betterthancheddar also relocates to Winbak Canada from New York. As is the case with just about all of the repositioned stallions, his fee takes a 22% hit, dropping from $4,500 to $3,500. Sportswriter made a splash in the Ontario Sire Stakes and saw his fee jump 38% to $6,500 (Cdn.) Kadabra’s fee has been cut 20% to $12,000 (US). E L Titan will stand for $8,000 and race as well.

Ten-year-old Crazed returns to New York from Pennsylvania. He stood for $6,000 at Hanover in 2013, $4,000 in 2014 and is back up to $5,000 at Blue Chip in 2015. Gural Hanover and Crazy Wow were very good in the NYSS last year and Tirade Hanover is racing very well right now. Lucky Chucky, who didn’t overwhelm us with his first crop, had his fee reduced 20% to $6,000 for 2015. Chapter Seven, whose first crop sells this year, had his fee dropped a thousand dollars to $7,500 for 2015. Twenty-year-old Artiscape drops 20% to $4,000.

The high priced stuff goes to Pennsylvania, where Captaintreacherous and Sweet Lou both have full books--$15,000 for The Captain and half that much for Lou. One bright spot in Pennsylvania is Muscle Massive jumping 20% to $7,500 off first crop performances by the likes of Gatka Hanover and Speak To Me. Twenty-one-year-old Yankee Glide, who has struggled of late, had his fee dropped from $12,500 to $10,000.

Still, $15,000 is lower than folks expected The Captain to slot in at prior to his unsuccessful four-year-old campaign. Modest increases for Sportswriter, Muscle Massive and Crazed don’t a positive trend make. Father Patrick will get $30,000, but that’s for an abbreviated book and many of those bookings are for syndicate members. Somebeachsomewhere had his fee dropped $5,000 to $25,000 and his book is still open. Muscle Hill’s fee is unpublished. Maybe he went up. Overall, the trend is not positive.

Joe FitzGerald

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Top Race Mares Don't Always Make Top Broodmares. How Will Rocklamation Do?

The top price at the recent Tattersalls Winter Mixed Sale at the Meadowlands belonged to the 2014 co-winner of the Dan Patch for older pacing mares, Rocklamation. She went to Gene Kurzok and Jerry Silva, two members of her previous ownership group, for $360,000. They intend to breed her while continuing to race the daughter of Rocknroll Hanover, probably until August. She would have an opportunity to earn back part of her purchase price in the Blue Chip Matchmaker, which she won in 2012, the Betsy Ross, Roses Are Red, Golden Girls and Lady Liberty. Rocklamation won the latter two stakes in 2014. The seven-year-old mare has made 97 starts and earned $2.2 million.

That brings us to the age old question: How much faith can one have in a broodmare that has a busy past as a race mare? Some have succeeded, but it seems even more have not.

Armbro Flight, who was Horse of the Year three times in Canada, produced Colonial winner Armbro Regina at 11, but she didn’t really hit the breeding jackpot until she dropped her 13th foal at age 25. That was Armbro Goal, the winner of the 1988 Hambletonian. Elgin Armstrong labeled the anti-social daughter of Stars Pride, “the greatest horse raised in 100 years,” but she threw a lot of blanks as a broodmare.

Fresh Yankee raced for eight years, winning 89 of 191 starts. She was the first Standardbred born in North America to earn a million dollars. However, the daughter of Hickory Pride didn’t come remotely close to matching those numbers as a broodmare. One son, Mac Breton, was OK, but overall she failed to produce.

Money Maker and Peace Corps also failed to put all those miles behind them and be successful as broodmares. The great French mare Une de Mai, who raced until age 10, winning 71 of 141 starts,  and was retired in foal to Nevele Pride, only left one offspring, a surviving twin, before dying. Roquepine did produce the Starts Pride stallion Florestan, but not much else.

Classical Way, a daughter of Hambletonian winner Kerry Way, sold for $400,000 as a broodmare at age ten. But the winner of the Kentucky Futurity, Roosevelt International and Prix de France had no luck as a mother.

Hambletonian winner Continentalvictory brought $760,000 as a broodmare but she failed to impress. Panty Raid, the first winner of the World Trotting Derby, was of little value as a broodmare.

That’s not to say all of the long distance mares have come up short. Delmonica Hanover made 112 starts, winning 48 of them. She won her division three times and was voted Horse of the Year in 1974. Delmonica was a prized broodmare prospect, selling for a record $300,000 at five and $ 1 million at age 13. She produced the outstanding filly Delmegan as well as Hambletonian winner Park Avenue Joe.

Impish, the HOF filly who opened eyes with a 1:58.3 win as a two-year-old in 1961, produced Canny Imp, who only won twice but proved to be a seminal broodmare, as well as the accomplished trotter Pay Dirt.

Winky’s Gill, who sold at auction for a record $800,000, did give us Supergill and Winky’s Goal.

Glad Rags, a FFA pacer by Greentree Adios who mixed it up with the likes of Bret Hanover and Adios Vic, presented Nevele Pride with Zoot Suit, who went on to be a very successful sire in Europe. She also threw the fine Bret Hanover pacer Saville Row.

On the pacing side, Handle With Care retired with a slew of very tough miles in her, and she had no success as a broodmare. The same goes for Shady Daisy. Fan Hanover, the only filly to win the Little Brown Jug, threw blanks. Mistletoe Shalee is another. And add Miss Conna Adios to the list of no shows.

Little Robin Dundee, who paced the fastest mile ever by a mare in Australia or New Zealand when she won the Miracle Mile in 1:59 at Harold Park in 1967, raced through age 11. She retired at 12 in foal to Adios Butler. That matchup didn’t work out, but at age 19 she dropped the top notch Meadow Skipper pacer Genghis Khan, who earned almost a million dollars.

Rainbow Blue, Horse of the Year in 2004, only started 32 times, so she doesn’t qualify as a high mileage mare, but she has already produced 2010 freshman division winner Somwherovrarainbow.

Delinquent Account gave us Artiscape as well as Arterra, the dam of If I Can Dream, Western Terror and Cinderella Guy.

A number of top mares have been retired in the recent past. Idyllic was sold as a broodmare for $140,000 two years ago at the Winter Mixed Sale. Big McDeal was sold at last year’s Mixed Sale for $125,000. I Luv The Nitelife brought something in the $300,000 range when she was sold in September. See You At Peelers and Put On A Show are a couple of more low mileage high achievers that were retired to the breeding shed in 2012.

Check me Out was retired after her four-year-old campaign and bred to Credit Winner. Eight-year-old Frenchfrysnvinegar, who started 144 times and earned more than a million dollars, was retired in 2013.

Buck I St Pat retired in the fall of 2011 with 105 miles in her. She had earned two free breedings to Muscles Yankee for winning the Matchmaker. Rocklamation is entitled to a free breeding from a Blue Chip stallion for winning the same race, so they could hook her up with Art Major for free or go the SBSW route like Peelers and POAS. Regardless, it will be interesting to see if this high mileage mare is a successful mother.

Joe FitzGerald



Monday, January 19, 2015

Standardbed Canada Polls Horsemen On HOY Vote

Standardbred Canada asked a dozen driver/trainers to weigh in on who should be the 2014 Horse of the Year in Canada. Eight of them—Paul MacDonell, Sylvain Filion, Lorne House, Scott Young, Kyle Reibeling, Dustin Jones, Doug McNair and Blake MacIntosh—chose JK She’salady. Makes sense. Overall she was undefeated, and she won all her starts in Canada, including the Eternal Camnation, Three Diamonds and Shes A Great Lady, setting a 1:50.1 world record in the latter. The award is based on a horse making the greatest contribution to harness racing in Canada. She distances the field in that regard.

Chris Christoforou and James MacDonald chose the brilliant freshman trotter Mission Brief. As talented as she is, this is a curious choice. She set a 1:52.1 world record in her Peaceful Way elimination, to go along with her 1:50.3 world record in the ISS at The Red Mile, but she broke stride and finished out in the finals of the Peaceful Way and Goldsmith Maid, both raced in Canada. You’re going to make Mission Brief HOY in Canada when all she won up there were eliminations? Crazy talk.

Some don’t believe any horse based south of the border should win this award, and I suppose Jody Jamieson and Trevor Henry fall into this category. Both picked Intimidate. The now six-year-old won five of 14 starts, including the Maple Leaf Trot and the TVG final. He won the former at 47-1 and the latter at 14-1. Intimidate won four of his six starts in Canada, three of them over preferred trotters. He finished out in the BC, Crawford and Cashman, so while the son of Justice Hall stepped up at the right time and won the two top dollar stakes for aged trotters, he didn’t exactly light up the world wide marquee like Sebastian did. Intimidate will win his division in Canada, but in light of the success JK She’salady had in Ontario, a HOY designation would be far-fetched.

Joe FitzGerald

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Pureform Olympia

Pureform Olympia, a six-year-old mare by the doublel-gaited Valley Victory stallion Valet Victory and out of the Cams card Shark mare, Triptonic Hanover, has won seven consecutive races on the trot since leaving an unsuccessful pacing career behind in Western Canada and moving into trainer Gordon Remmen’s barn in Ontario. The mare had only won twice in 34 starts as a pacer, banking less than $8,000. Last night she beat NW20 (F&M25) at Flamboro by five lengths for Billy Davis Jr.

The fact that her dam is by Cams Card catches your eye, because recent upside down bred trotting sensation Googoo Gaagaa, who is now standing in Maryland, is by the Cams Card Shark sire Cams Rocket. In Goo’s case his dam, Koras Trotter, was bred to trot. Why Cams Card Shark? Who knows? Interesting—but no more—that he’s up close to Meadow Skipper on the top and bottom, and that one, who produced the trotting star Skipper Walt, is half to dual-gaited sensation Countess Adios. Del Miller described the latter, who beat the boys in both the Messenger and the Cane, as the perfect mare. The free-legged miss always warmed up on the trot. She made a dozen starts on the trot at age four and took a mark of 2:01.2.

Bill Haughton had a Romeo Hanover colt named Speedy Romeo in the early 1970s, who banked $35,000 on the pace in the NYSS at two but hated wearing hobbles so Haughton discarded them and found him to be a natural trotter. He promptly won a $43,000 NYSS trot at three. All told Speedy Romeo earned almost $500,000. In that case his dam’s granddaddy was Worthy Boy, who gave us trotting stars like Stars Pride and Trader Horn and pacers like Winning Worthy and Harold J.

Lively Anne, who appears in the pedigree of Frau Blucher, is another accomplished trotter by Romeo Hanover. She won her division at six. Her dam was by Duke Of Lullwater. Another daughter of the Duke produced Yankee Bambino, who makes his presence felt on the top line to this day.

The trotting bred pacer, once common, has become a rarity. The Armstrong Brothers and Joe O’Brien’s Horton Hanover was one of the best. Pacing bred trotters have always been less plentiful and less likely to crack the top tier. Skipper Walt was good, but he was no Horton Hanover. Productive dual-gaited types like Pureform Olympia or Crocket, a switch hitter by Diller Hanover who won a lot of money in the 60s, are dreams come true for track publicity departments.

Joe FitzGerald

[Allan should be back on the beat in a day or two.]


Friday, January 16, 2015

January Mixed Sale

The January Mixed Sale at the Meadowlands will be held on Monday. Rocklamation, the seven-year-old co-winner of the Dan Patch for aged pacing mares, who earned more than $500,000 last year, is for sale. Matron and Windy City Pace winner Big Boy Dreams, the premier offspring of BC and Messenger winner If I Can Dream, and the 2013 BC winner, the puzzling Spider Blue Chip, will also go home with the highest bidder.

Last year Wake Up Peter, who was winless in 19 starts at three, went to Ray Remmen for $210,000, and subsequently won 14 races and earned $256,000. Another high priced success was the now six-year-old pacing mare Yagonnakissmeornot, who won the Allerage, earned more than a half-million dollars and took a 1:49.3 mark for Rene Allard.

A big miss last year was the sale topper, Emeritus Maximus, who went to the Cancelliere brothers for $248,000. They have since hooked up with Myron Bell’s group, so the days of wild spending sprees on unworthy horses are probably over. Emeritus, now five, had only won six races when he entered the ring, but he had earned more than $292,000. In 2014 the son of Rocknroll won seven times, one of those for Tony Alagna and the previous ownership group, and earned $107,000.

Another high-end purchase at last year’s January Mixed Sale was the Yankee Glide trotter, Appomattox. Reima Kuisla paid $200,000 for the now six-year-old, who only won twice in 2014, earning $34,000.

Josh Green, who was issued a time out for most of the 2014 season, spent $85,000 of Baron Racing’s money on EZ Noah, a now six-year-old Western Terror pacer, who banked $118,000 in 40 starts last year. He won eight times and made the board in half his starts.  

Bamond Racing came close to doubling their money when they purchased the Rocknroll mare Rockaround Sue for $87,000 and saw her earn $164,000 in 2014. Much of that money was earned against high-end non winners and preferred mares at Yonkers Raceway.

The eight-year-old Astreos pacer Sparky Mark earned $191,000 in 32 starts during 2013. He was sold at the 2014 January Mixed Sale to Rene Allard’s connections for $100,000. Sparky banked more than $96,000 in 31 starts and has already raced in 2015.

Six-year-old Mortal Zin has been through the sale the past two years. The son of Rocknroll went from Burke to Alagna in 2013 for $87,000, after banking $112,000 at three. He only won three times and earned $49,000 that year. And a year ago he moved on to Mark Ford for $55,000. Mortal Zin won five of 45 starts and earned more than $100,000 in 2014.

Some of the others selling Monday are Major Dancer, Capital Account, Somestarsomewhere and Somesizesomestyle.

Joe FitzGerald


Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Questions That Will Be Answered In 2015


JK She’salady and Mission Brief turned heads in 2014. Will one or both prove to be an all-time great? Will the former win HOY honors again? Will Mission Brief win the Hambletonian and outshine her pacing counterpart?

Will the surgical repair of a fractured pastern that followed Always B Miki’s late scratch from the Breeders Crown be successful? David Miller chose the Always A Virgin colt over eventual division winner McWicked in that race. Will Miller be proven correct if he stays with Miki as the pair, along with JK Endofanera, All Bets Off  and Limelight Beach move into the aged ranks?

What about He’s Watching? In contrast to his undefeated freshman campaign in the NYSS, he won five of 13 starts at three, accomplishing little during the second half of the season. Will David Menary get him back to the record breaking speed delivered in the Meadowlands Pace? Sweet Lou has been retired and Foiled is now eleven years old. There should be ample opportunities for the four year old group to step up. Last year they fell on their faces.

Will Nuncio turn the tables on stablemate Father Patrick and dominate the four year old set? There was quite a drop off after the big three in the sophomore colt division during 2014. Trixton has been retired while Patrick and E L Titan are doing double duty this year and will probably miss the early season Graduate Series for four year olds at the Meadowlands as well as the Hambletonian Maturity? Things seem to be setting up nicely for Nuncio; it would be a shame to see him head for Europe and miss those early season opportunities.

Last year most expected Bee A Magician to challenge Maven for division leadership, however, Classic Martine outdid the pair with wins in the Armbro Flight, Miss Versatility and Ima Lula. Where will Shake It Cerry slot into this group? Herb Liverman, who purchased Maven for $750,000, doesn’t want to race her against his other mare, BAM. Aside from Maven remaining in Europe, I don’t see how the two mares can avoid each other. Opportunities for aged trotting mares are scarce. Will her early season European campaign set Maven back again this year? Is Cerry better than BAM? Will Lifetime Pursuit and Designed To Be turn into players?

What’s going to happen with Breeders Crown winner Traceur Hanover? Jeff Gural has banned owner Richard Berthiaume from his tracks for not disavowing Corey Johnson earlier. Traceur is staked to the Meadowlands Pace, and if precedent prevails he will be allowed to race. The same would hold true for the Cane Pace, which has been moved to the Meadowlands on Hambletonian Day. Corey Johnson won’t be present this year but Traceur will serve as an embarrassing reminder of Cobalt Crown on the two premier days of racing at the Meadowlands. Artspeak and In The Arsenal are expected to dominate that division, but Traceur may serve as a season long embarrassment, or much worse, the champ.

The sophomore filly pacers were a less than impressive group in 2014. In the past we’ve expected the likes of Peelers and Jewel to step up and dominate their elders, but it didn’t happen. Watch, some of the 2014 softies will morph into Amazons. Last year it was Somwherovrarainbow and Shebestingin who failed to take the crown from the co-winners of the Dan Patch, Rocklamation and Anndrovette. Will the likes of Color’s a Virgin, Sayitall BB and Precocious Beauty get it done?

Will Pinkman, Habitat, Uncle Lasse, Billy Flynn, Muscle Diamond and other now sophomore trotters assert themselves, or will they be overshadowed by Mission Brief, Wild Honey, Jolene Jolene and the other fillies?

Will we get early season record breaking Sebastian or second half, not so good, Sebastian? Are the connections of TVG winner Intimidate going to toss him into the FFA mix from the get go, or dick around with him for much of the season as has been their custom? Will Allerage and American National winner Creatine build on that and become a full time member of the FFA set? What about Natural Herbie? Along the same lines as the Intimidate inquiry, will Verlin Yoder hang around Hoosier Park with Herbie, occasionally joining the FFA fray, or will he join the club full time? Will all those therapy sessions pay off for Master Of Law? Does he finally have his head screwed on straight? Lots of questions in this division.

Joe FitzGerald


Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Pacingguy Temporarily Out Of Commission

Pacingguy sends word that he is unable to post right now, but hopes to be back in the mix some time over the weekend.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Deceptive Stallion Ads

The bottom line on stallion ads is to drum up business, of course, but what qualities and accomplishments a given farm highlights or ignores in these ads is always of interest. What they choose to say and not say tells the tale. Norman Woolworth and David Johnston’s Stoner Creek Stud always embraced the understated approach. In 1971 ads for Meadow Skipper, they simply noted that Most Happy Fella, from his first crop, had been voted Pacer of the Year while two-year-old Albatross had won his division. Skipper stood for $5,000 at that time. Eight years later, when it was obvious that he was the King and he was standing for $30,000, they simply printed “The Ultimate Sire” over Meadow Skipper’s name. A similar approach was taken by Jefs when they stood grandson Cam Fella in New Jersey for $25,000 16 years later. “The Pacing Machine” said it all.

A more hyperbolic approach was taken by Team Finder/Guida with Niatross. In a 1987 ad the former was described in bold type as “The most prolific pacing stallion in the world today.” Prolific in this case describes numbers of 2:00 and 1:53 or faster performers from the first three crops of the great pacer. The ad goes on to state that “Niatross is the superior stallion of all time.” He was standing for $40,000. Unfortunately, like too many from that line, he started off good but fell off sharply after the first few crops. Nihilator, Semalu Damour, Pershing Square, Smartest Remark, Barberry Spur and Caressable all came early, but pretty soon the well went dry.

Barberry Spur stood at Stoner Creek for $10,000. Ouch! By 1990 Niatross was standing for $7,500 in New Jersey; four years later his fee had dropped to $5,000; five years later he was dead. The superior stallion of all time? I don’t think so. The Finder/Guida syndicate also marketed the Albatross stallion Merger as “the fastest two year old pacer in history.” True enough, but another dud.

Nihilator, who was syndicated for more than $19 million, was also hyped beyond the realm of possibility. He started out serving a large book of mares at Almahurst for $40,000 a pop and proved to be a disaster. Ted Gewertz was quoted as saying the worst mistake he ever made was breeding to Nihilator. His fee dropped to $35,000, then $25,000. He only sired five full crops before passing prematurely.

Bret Hanover was better than any pacer that preceded him. For that reason his first crop sons, none of whom were worth a damn as stallions, were marketed very aggressively. Almahurst advertised High Ideal anywhere and everywhere as the “greatest son of Bret Hanover.” At that point that wasn’t saying much and High Ideal, despite all the support, proved to be a mistake. Flying Bret was another from that first crop who was touted in the pages of every magazine but never amounted to anything. Golden Money Maker was also a failed stallion—in this case by Tar Heel—who was a darling of those selling ad space.

Green Speed, who won the 1977 Hambletonian and Yonkers Trot, was touted by Pine Hollow Stud (Finder again) as a horse “Considered by many to be the greatest trotter to ever look through a bridle.” Trainer/driver Bill Haughton is quoted as saying Green Speed was “the greatest trotter I have ever seen.” The son of Speedy Rodney was standing for $5,000, a veritable bargain for the greatest ever. He sired one good horse, the filly Duenna, who won the Hambletonian for Stanley Dancer. Not quite the greatest ever? Later on Haughton was quoted in an ad for Burgomeister as saying, “he could have been the best trotter around.” But he wasn’t and he failed as a stallion. Pine Hollow also screamed that Sonsam’s world record 1:53.2 win in the Meadowlands Pace was “the greatest performance ever.” Like his paternal brothers, he was good at the beginning but hit the wall early.

Lana Lobell’s Alan Leavitt, a novelist in his spare time,  favored long essays that emphasized his personal experience choosing stallions and matching them up with mares. In some cases a full page ad never mentioned the farm’s stallions. In one he proudly proclaimed experience to be superior to a computer program when it comes to assigning mares to stallions.  After reading five paragraphs on Icarus Lobell you thought he was talking about Meadow Skipper. Although in the case of Speedy Crown, who was a game changer, ads full of numbers did appear. Fair Winds Farm also took the long-winded approach to advertising stallions like McKinzie Almahurst.

Sometimes it’s best to avoid focusing on the stallion being advertised. A case in point is the advertising put forth on behalf of Deweycheatumnhowe. Walnut Hall had a full page ad in a recent edition of Horseman And Fair World with Master Of Law in bold print and a picture of that one winning the Centaur. Dewey, who has bounced from Kentucky to Ontario to New York, is mentioned once in the small print. Ads for track stars that are struggling as stallions, like Art Official, Shark Gesture and Mister Big, are long on racing accomplishments by the stallion and short on details about his progeny. There is a time limit on that: at some point it gets a little weird.

Breeding can be a point of emphasis. Shirley’s Beau, the best son of the Hoot Mon stallion Overcall, was advertised as one that “could be the outcross stallion needed in harness breeding.” He wasn’t. Keystone Ore was touted as the “greatest son of Bye Bye Byrd.” He did sire It’s Fritz, one of those fastest that never won anything types. Speaking of pure speed, one obscure stallion was touted as the only son of Steady Star standing in Illinois. Still one too many.

Unraced Cobra Almahurst, a $385,000 yearling, was produced by “The Magic of Meadow Skipper.” “He was meant to be a great one and everyone knew it.” All this for $1,000 in Illinois. Lime Time was marketed on the basis of his 95% conception rate. They were slow as can be, but they were a sure bet to pop out. Sundance Skipper, the sire of Carl’s Bird, was “the overnight sensation.” Not exactly. Ideal Society was “The only 2 year old to beat all multimillion dollar syndicated 2 year olds in 1981.” Say what? Lew Williams’ speedball Whata Baron did much of his best work in New Jersey and he was widely advertised when he entered the stallion ranks. He may have executed seven sub-1:55 winning miles in less than three months, but he was no sire. The Armstrong Brothers boldly stated and underlined that Armbro Omaha’s “First Crop Defies Comparison.” Even by OSS standards in the late 1970’s that was kind of strong. The son of Airliner was better on the track than he was in the shed. Good ads can give a stallion a boost, but when looked back at from a distance they may raise an eyebrow or two.

Joe FitzGerald

Friday, January 9, 2015

Meadowlands Statement on Corey Johnson Using Excessive Cobalt

A brief note from the hospital....

The following is a press release from the Meadowlands.  It is about time someone holds owners responsible for rheir traner's actions.  It is not even a question of their trainer having a positive.  If the owner was wiling to change trainers after the Canadian positive, he would still be allowed to participate at the Gural tracks.

Both Corey Johnson Breeders Crown participants raced with excessive levels of Cobalt in their system

East Rutherford, NJ (January 9th) - As a result of out-of-competition testing performed on horses that participated in The Breeders Crown, unfortunately it has been revealed from the testing lab in Hong Kong that the two horses trained by Corey Johnson, Traceur Hanover and Voelz Hanover, contained five times the threshold level of cobalt typically found in a horse’s system. Traceur Hanover was victorious in the Two Year Old Colt and Gelding Pace, while Voelz Hanover was unplaced in the Older Mare Pace.  There are still several samples taken from Breeders Crown participants that were sent to Hong Kong that we are awaiting the results.

As a result, Mr. Gural has advised the owner of these horses, Richard Berthiaume, that by electing not to remove his horses from the Corey Johnson stable when Mr. Johnson’s license was suspended, all horses owned by Mr. Berthiaume are now unable to participate at The Meadowlands, Tioga Downs and Vernon Downs.

The Meadowlands has notified The Hambletonian Society of these findings through its President, Tom Charters as well as the New Jersey Racing Commission through Executive Director Frank Zanzuccki.

We have also informed Corey Johnson and his assistant trainer that they will be unable to participate at The Meadowlands indefinitely. While the Hambletonian Society and the New Jersey Racing Commission wanted to scratch both horses from The Breeders Crown Finals due to the fact that Mr. Johnsons’ license was suspended, unfortunately due to a controlling court case brought previously by the owners of Crys Dream, the Assistant Attorney General would not allow any action to be taken until a hearing was scheduled. Due to the timing of the suspension shortly before the Breeders Crown Finals, a hearing would have been impossible.

It is our hope that by making the owners responsible as well as the trainers, it will send a message to others in the industry that they should think twice before using a trainer who has been suspended in another jurisdiction.

In addition, we are currently investigating a matter involving trainer Doug Lewis in regards to an incident from the weekend of December 27th.  Horses trained by Doug Lewis will be unable to participate at The Meadowlands, Tioga Downs and Vernon Downs until the investigation is complete.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Just Wnen It Can't Get Worse, it Does.

'With Sports Creek Raceway up for sale, things in Michigan may quite down, despite the blow the closure brings.  Unfortunately, you would be wrong because a contract for the 2015 racing season between MHHA and Hazel Park has apparently not been agreed to.  This is why when you look at the Hazel  Park calendar, there is only thoroughbred racing listed.

There is enough time for an agreement to be reached but if negotiations fail, Northville Downs will be the only track for Michigan interests.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Standardbred Alliance Shows Benefits Year One

The Standardbred Alliance in Ontario shows all-source wagering on harness racing increased to $288,862,555, an increase of 16.76% for the year 2014.  As important as the overall increase was, the handle per race increased over 9%.

How did the Alliance manage such a positive effect?  With WEG in the forefront, a common delivery system was developed.  Betting machines were standardized throughout the province so those betting at different tracks had a common interface.  Another key to their success was a racing schedule which minimized the conflict in schedules.  By minimizing the overlapping of racing schedules, there is less competition for the wagering dollar between tracks which allows for greater handles at each track, offering wagering opportunities at the smaller tracks for gamblers where they didn't exist in the past.  As an example, in Ontario this past Saturday there were only two harness track racing, Woodbine and Flamboro where in the past more tracks may have operated.

When it comes to wagering, more is less; less wagering allows for greater wagering opportunities.  American harness tracks need to realize less racing is better as well.  The demand for the product doesn't need as many tracks operating at the same time.  The problem is schedules are set by racing commissions for the benefit of the home state, not a national policy.  Until a national policy is developed, racing will continue to struggle.   

The Meadowlands has reached the part of the schedule where they race three days a year and this Thursday, the premiere of Thursday racing begins with four divisions of the Super Bowl for young trotters.  We will see if any of these trotters stand out and become prominent during the entire season.

Congratulations to Corey Callahan on his 4,0000th career victory which came yesterday at Dover Downs.  Corey is one of the shining stars in the industry.  There will be many more victories coming in his career.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

The Issue Of Grading Races, Today And Thirty Years Ago

The introduction of graded stakes races to harness racing is an issue that has gnawed away at owners, trainers, drivers and fans for a half-century, but we’re no closer to making it a reality today than we were back in the sixties. A survey that Tom White, one-time publicity director at The Red Mile and the Little Brown Jug, conducted on the topic more than three decades ago offers us some perspective. White concedes that his audit would not stand up to scientific scrutiny, but it certainly holds much anecdotal value. He wanted opinions on how to grade the slightly more than 2% of races that were not specifically for claimers or conditioned by earnings, age or sex. He sent a list of all unrestricted races—except by age and sex—to “40 knowledgeable harness racing representatives,” asking those folks to designate them as Grade 1, 2 or 3. He also allowed for a No Grade option. And 80% of them responded.

The powers that be in thoroughbred racing formulated a list of 330 graded stakes for 1973 and 1974; it was reduced to 276 in 1980. White used 69 races from the Standardbred calendar for his survey. Only 35 of 100 thoroughbred tracks in North America carded graded stakes in 1981. Last year’s precept that every open stakes race—regardless of how insignificant it is—come under the Grand Circuit umbrella, works against any sort of graded stakes paradigm in harness racing. Every track and publicity director’s race in the standardbred world is a Grade 1 as far as they’re concerned.

Four races, the Hambletonian, Jug, Messenger and Wilson drew perfect Grade 1 scores. The Wilson went away after the 2012 edition; of the other three, the Hambletonian would no doubt still get a perfect score, but I’m not sure about the other two. There’s a great deal of resentment over the fact that two legs of the Pacing Triple Crown—the Jug and the Messenger—are raced over half-mile tracks. Also, the Messenger lost much of its cachet when Roosevelt closed and the race embarked on a nomadic journey that now has it rooted at Yonkers Raceway. The purse is $500,000 but many owners and trainers keep their premium stock clear of half-mile tracks; All Bets Off, Ronny Bugatti and Bolt The Duer won the last three. The Jug doesn’t engender as much enmity as the Messenger, but there are plenty of harness racing aficionados who discount it as a post position crap shoot.

Races that came within one or two votes of a perfect Grade 1 score in the 1981 survey are the Meadowlands Pace, Kentucky Futurity, Cane, Yonkers Trot, Adios, Oaks and Fox Pace. Only one individual labeled the Meadowlands Pace a Grade 2 stake, and certainly it would fall solidly in the Grade 1 column today. The same goes for the Kentucky Futurity. The Cane, which was shown the door by the Rooneys after the 1997 edition, and spent 14 uneventful years at Freehold, one at Pocono and the last three at Tioga, carries a shorter purse than the Messenger, but has escaped the twice-arounds. Lyonssomewhere beat He’s Watching and JK Endofanera in 2014; Captain T beat Vegas Vacation in 2013; and Dynamic Youth beat Pet Rock and A Rocknroll Dance in 2012. Switching to the bigger track has drastically improved the talent. This year the race will move to the Meadowlands where it will enhance the Hambletonian Day program. The Cane is a solid Grade 2, which has drawn better quality fields than the Messenger of late, and is striving to regain its Grade 1 status.

The Yonkers Trot would also have more of a problem drumming up Grade 1 votes in 2015. Nuncio crushed a soft field in this year’s $580,000 edition. Six, or 17%, of the Hambletonian winners have also won the Yonkers Trot in the 35 years since Tom White conducted this review. Just as the better pacers tend to avoid the Messenger, the better trotters sit out the Yonkers Trot.

The Adios, which was classified as a Grade 1 by 31 of the 33 respondents, is another race that has fallen somewhat out of favor. Only 14% of the Meadowlands Pace winners in the last 35 years also won the Adios; the last to do so was Davids Pass nineteen years ago. Only 13 % of the NA Cup winners have also won the Adios since the Cup was rebranded in 1984, and again, Davids Pass was the last to do it. This year the Adios will be held on Saturday, August 1. One assumes the Hambletonian—and the Cane—will be the following Saturday. McWicked, Sunfire Blue Chip, Bolt The Duer, Alsace Hanover, Delmarvalous and Vintage Master won the last six editions of the Adios. Needless to say, reputation notwithstanding, the race wouldn’t garner all those Grade 1 votes today.

Thirty-one of the 33 respondents designated the Oaks as a Grade 1, and I assume the result would be equally one-sided today. The Fox Stake, on the other hand, has done a free fall from grace. Around since 1927, it was the richest race for freshman pacing colts at one time. Adios, Good Time, Bret Hanover, Romeo Hanover, Laverne Hanover and Albatross all won the Fox. Unfortunately racing at the Indianapolis Fairgrounds isn’t what it was, and in recent years the likes of Harfo Hanover and Blooming Genius won the race. Rating it a three would be too generous.

Some of the stakes which garnered two-thirds of the votes in White’s survey have been eliminated. The Colonial, Holmes, Kentucky Pacing Derby, Prix d’Ete (3YO), Sweetheart and World Trotting Derby are all gone. The venerable Dexter and Lady Suffolk, which are raced at Freehold, are now Grade 3 stakes. The Peter Haughton Memorial Pace, which was raced at Roosevelt, is no more. The Adioo Volo is now a Grade 3; the Tattersalls Pace, which is now raced in divisions with no heats, is a Grade 2. Can’t have two winners and be a one. The Peter Haughton freshman trot is still around and noteworthy. The Tarport Hap has been eliminated, along with the Niatross, and previously mentioned Wilson. Sweetheart and Holmes as Jeff Gural gradually purges the calendar of colt and filly stakes so he can concentrate on series for the four and up group.

The Breeders Crown, the most important addition to the stakes landscape in the last thirty-five years, had yet to be introduced when Tom White solicited these opinions in 1981. All of them would rate a Grade 1 designation today.

A race needed 22 votes for Grade 1 status to qualify under White’s system. Eighteen, or 26%, made the cut. Less than half that number would warrant a Grade 1 designation today. With so many buying strictly for sire stakes racing, it apparently doesn’t matter.

Joe FitzGerald




Sports Creek Raceway Says "We're out of Here"

As suspected, Sports Creek Raceway is heading for the dust heap.  The track has announced it is permanently closing and seeking suitors to purchase the property.  This leaves Michigan with a limited number of days racing at Hazel Park where they play second fiddle to the thoroughbred and mixed breeds and Northville Downs; accounting for 60 days of racing.

My suspicion is it was pre-determined that Sports Creek was closing, regardless of whatever offer the MHHA may have made.  Sports Creek's attempt to get thoroughbred racing dates was denied by officials and it may have been a case continuing on as a pure harness track was not a viable option for management, at least no more.  This would explain why the horsemen were left waiting for a response from management.

Look once again for Jackson Raceway to seek licensure, either this year, or more likely 2016.  The MGCB turned them down before for lack of finances to pay for purses; one would not be surprised to see the standardbred horsemen guarantee the purse account for the first season.  Of course, the purse account at Sports Creek will need to be transferred elsewhere for the benefit of standardbred horsemen so perhaps those funds will seed the purse account at Jackson.

Good bye Sports Creek.  We hardly knew ye.

While not of importance at this time, the model rules of the ARCI now permits the carryover of Pentafecta pools from one track to another track operated by the same racing association.  As a result, when racing shifts in the late spring from Woodbine to Mohawk, (and possibly back), there will no longer be a mandatory payout as a result of the end of the race meet at the track; the pool will be able to shift over.  This allows for the potential of even bigger pools and payoffs when the Jackpot Super High-5 is hit.

For those of you who prefer the now mundane Pick-4, Cal Expo has raised it's guarantee for the balance of the month of January to $30,000; a $10,000 increase over the regular $20,000 guarantee.

Why not Novelty Bets?

In anticipation of the upcoming Inter Dominion, TAB of Australia has released its opening odds for their novelty wagers.  In Australia, you can bet on the age and nationality of the Inter Dominion winner.   These are the opening wagers for the Inter Dominion which takes place on December 11, 2015.  As the race comes closer, TAB will offer additional novelty wagers as the field comes more into focus as they head to the preliminary legs.

While TAB can offer fixed odds wagering which North American tracks are unable to, the question is why can't North American tracks offer such novelty wagers?  Purists will poo poo the idea, but then, can we do any worse in attracting newcomers to racing?  These are perfect wagers to offer beginners as future wagering and even race day bets.  Using a race like the Meadowlands Pace, why not a wager as to whether the winner will be Canadian or American-sired?  Want to go further, you can offer wagering on the province/state the winning horse is sired from.  If you use a FFA race, you could offer wagers on the age of the winning horse?  What about the country of the winner of the Yonkers International?

Make no mistake, initially the pools would be small but if marketed correctly and given time to mature, these wagers could attract decent pools.  Our problem is we quickly jettison wagers which don't show instant success.  Obviously, you can't offer the wager on every stakes race, but imagine offering them on the marquee events in racing.

Novelty wagers?  What do we have to lose?

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Oh, the Irony of It All

You read stories about casinos removing slot machines in favor of adding 'new amenities' every once in a while. There are questions as to the long term viability of Dover Downs due to the decline in revenue from alternative gaming which is threatening the fiscal viability of the racino.  Casinos were (and may continue to) closing in Atlantic City left and right.  You may be wondering "What's going on?".

Then again, you may be chuckling to yourself; after all the irony isn't lost on you.

Casino gambling is falling into the same bad habits horse racing had.

Don't get me wrong, casino gambling is more popular than horse racing and trust me, if one is going to disappear, it will be horse racing because racing's savior has turned into an anchor.

Before casino gambling busted out of Nevada, if you opened a racetrack (and didn't totally screw things up by doing things like opening a track outside of Las Vegas, or trying to open a track in Arizona in what then was the sticks), you had a license to print money.  People came to the track and just started betting, there was no real need to do anything to pull customers in, the lure of gambling did it for you.  Then after a while, tracks started to open up near others, cannibalizing each other and you had battles between Brandywine and Liberty Bell when they raced the same dates, situations such as Liberty Bell closing once Garden State Park re-opened.  The Meadowlands (with the help of NYCOTB), devastated attendance and wagering at Roosevelt and Yonkers Raceways.  In the meanwhile, casinos came to Atlantic City and more people were lured away and when racinos opened up, they had people stop going into the track section of the facility like dogs facing an electric fence.  Did tracks learn?  No, for simulcasting allowed them to steal customers away from other tracks as gamblers would forgo the local product for the perceived better product.  The industry continues to this day to have problems attracting new customers and their year-long meets and lack of coordination in scheduling leads to continued cannibalizing; stealing from Peter to pay Paul you could say.

What's going on with the casinos and racinos?  First casinos busted out of Las Vegas and ended up in Atlantic City.  Then a racetrack in West Virginia developed a concept called a racino; a track with a casino attached.  Their success was noticed and before long, every track and horseman group salivated (and salivates) at the prospect of developing a racino.   In the meanwhile more and more states started to see the vision of easy money and they welcomed casinos into their states.  Pretty soon, casinos and racinos are opening up left and right trying to gain business.  About this time casinos figure they don't need to do much to develop a customer; it was 'Open it and they will come", the problem being casino gaming has become a commodity.  So yes, if you open it, they will come, but they are coming from someone else's casino, not from developing new customers.  That's fine and dandy when you are the one opening up, but then someone else will open down the road and then you find yourself losing customers to the new casino.  There's just too many casinos around.  Sounds familiar doesn't it?

Of course, casinos are the more lucrative prospect when compared to horse racing because the sport has been further down the path than the gaming industry so you know darn well they hold sway politically in the legislatures, more so than racing interests do.  First the casinos attempt to cut their tax rate and if that doesn't stop the bleeding if they get their way, they will have their lobbyists head into the statehouses with something called 'decoupling'.  "Why should casinos be dragged down supporting horse racing?", the argument will be made and in many states where fiscal budgets depend on revenue from the casinos, their argument will be persuasive.  You can imagine what will happen to racing when the slot revenue stops flowing.

Racing needs to think again how it plans to survive in the long run for racing has made a losing bet with the racino concept, but then who would have expected the casino industry to make many of the same mistakes racing did?

Oh the irony of it all.

Friday, January 2, 2015

Somebeachsomewhere Hits A Bump In The Road

Somebeachsomewhere sports the highest stud fee among pacing sires and his yearlings bring the highest average at the sales year after year. He produced the most accomplished and richest pacing colt from the recent past—Captaintreacherous—out of his first crop. What’s not to like? His 2014 freshman crop would be the answer to that question, I imagine. Captain T earned $900,000 at two, in 2012, but this year Ron Burke’s filly Southwind Roulette topped the freshman earnings list for SBSW. She earned a shade over $300,000. Southwind Roulette had some wins in the PA All Stars and the PASS, and won the PASS Championship at Pocono Downs, but she has no open stakes wins to her credit. She finished out at 99-1 from the rail in the BC; she finished third in the Debutante and out in the Matron and Kentuckiana. Not a good ambassador for a stallion that gets $30,000. Well, did get $30,000; his fee has been reduced to $25,000 for 2015, and his book is still open.

SBSW’s richest two-year-old son was Jimmy Takter’s Blood Brother, who earned almost $74,000. He won a split of the PASS Tyler B but finished out in the Governor’s Cup, Bluegrass and ISS. So, like his paternal sister Southwind Roulette, he has no open stakes wins on his resume. Art Major had JK She’salady; Western Ideal had Artspeak; American Ideal had In The Arsenal; even Rockin Image had Freaky Feet Pete.

Hillary’s Style was next on the list, having earned almost $69,000. She finished second in the Bluegrass, out in the ISS and was most at home in the PA Stallion Series. Another filly, Seeking Nirvana, was next with less than $60,000, and a win in the Debutante—Historic Stake—at Chester was her crowning achievement. Deli Beach earned $47,000, with wins in the John Simpson and Reynolds. However, she finished out at 55-1 in the Bluegrass and out at 50-1 in the ISS. Momas Got A Gun, struggled in the PA Stallion Series. And Linda Toscano’s highly regarded ASAP Hanover, who was favored in the Nassagaweya and his Metro elimination has only a Goshen Cup win to show for it.

A sizable mitigating circumstance is the fact that SBSW had 41 fewer two-year-old starters in 2014 than he did in 2013. Also, during 2014 he had 51 fewer two-year-old starters than three-year-old starters. Beyond that, the mares that produced his third class weren’t what one might expect. Still, the 2014 sophomores averaged $82,000 at Harrisburg; they were off a little at the top end from the previous year, but a bargain sale it was not.  

Was the 2014 sophomore group simply an anomaly? There was no Captaintreacherous in ten-year-old SBSW’s 2014 sophomore group. On the other hand, Limelight Beach, who won splits of the ISS and Bluegrass at two, won the LBJ, Bluegrass, Circle City and his BC elimination. The gelding is no star, but he did win a TC classic. Somewhere In LA, who won a split of the Nassagaweya at two, won the Diplomat and Keystone Classic in 2014. Competitive with his group, but no statues being contemplated. And Lyonssomewhere won the Cane and a Cup elimination. A talented but inconsistent trio, for sure.

On the distaff side, Sandbetweenurtoes strung together eight in a row against non-winners, state-breds and the Mistletoe Shalee bunch. Beach Gal and Beach Body failed to build on their success as two-year-olds. SBSW was the leading sire of three-year-olds in terms of gross earnings and average, but his star quotient was a little light.  

Contrasting SBSW with nine-year-old Muscle Hill, the pacing champ’s opposite number as the great trotter of the 21st century, we see that Muscle Hill has dominated the sales every bit as much as SBSW has. The latter has had two crops race, as opposed to three for SBSW, and his 2015 and 2016 freshmen are handicapped by the necessity to do their time in the underfunded NJSS program, before his offspring move on to Pennsylvania eligibility.

Muscle Hill was slightly ahead of Explosive Matter and Donato Hanover, on top of the freshman earnings list in 2014; he also led in average earnings. His first crop—three-year-olds in 2014—was third and fourth, respectively, in those categories. What he did have, that SBSW lacked, were stars. Mission Brief, who looks like an all-time great, set a world record of 1:50.3 in the ISS, winning by a ton. The $150,000 Lexington Select purchase was a break or win proposition all season. And Jonas Czernyson’s Jolene Jolene may have wound up in the shadow of paternal sister Mission Brief, but she matched the world record of 1:52.1 in the Bluegrass. How high will Mission Brief, who won the BC and the Merrie Annabelle, place in the 2015 Experimental Ratings? Will she top the field? Burke and some of her owners want to see her compete in the Hambletonian.

And in his sophomore class Muscle Hill had Hambletonian winner Trixton, who was a fan favorite, as well as E L Titan. Muscle Hill’s fee is unpublished, but it’s probably in the $25,000 range. While SBSW’s fee has been up and down, having been reduced 25% in 2012—the Captain’s two-year-old season—then restored the following year, and reduced again 17% for 2015, Muscle Hill, who was stuck in New Jersey for his first four years, seems to be on a smoother path. The Captain, Somwherovrarainbow and Sunshine Beach all came up short in 2014; SBSW needs a few headline grabbers to maintain those sale figures and justify the gait topping stud fee. Limelight Beach won the Jug, but he was winless as a three-year-old entering Jug Day and built sporadically on his success. The lack of stars from SBSW’s 2014 racing roster is concerning, but one can only assume that the syndicate has pulled out all the stops to reduce the risk of that happening again.

Joe FitzGerald

Sires Stakes Must Get With the Program

Pennsylvania's loss is New Jersey's gain.  Thanks to Pennsylvania's refusal to grant a waiver, Father Patrick will be standing stud in New Jersey in 2015, giving a big shot in the arm to New Jersey breeding program whose stature has crashed due to the lack of slots-fueled purses.  Due to the Gural rule of not permitting the crop of stallions aged four to race in the major stakes, the decision was made to have Father Patrick both stand stud in Pennsylvania where slots have super-sized purses while continuing to race at the same time.

The plans were in place, all which was needed was a waiver by the PASS board to allow Father Patrick to breed in the Keystone State while training in New Jersey (and racing wherever).  In a short-sighted move the board refused the waiver and as such, either Father Patrick would have had to race as a four year old exclusively or breed, with the resulting foals from any 2015 breeding being shut out of virtually any important stakes race or stand elsewhere.  Hence, the decision to breed in New Jersey down the road from trainer Jimmy Takter's farm.

Once again it is a case of the rules having to play catch up to the new economic realities of racing.  While there may have been other considerations, the primary reason for the rules requiring a stallion to stand an entire season in a specific state to have their off-spring remain eligible to state-sired events was to ensure horses were entitled to participate in one state program exclusively and not have their offspring being eligible in different states; the idea being to strengthen the one state's breeding program and not the others.  All is fine and good with that but with the Gural rule and the economic incentives, the paradigm has changed; horses are slowly starting to adopt the European model of breeding and racing.  With the new paradigm, the need for horses to breed and train may require horses to split their time between two or more states.

Yet the rules remain in the past with all or nothing rules regarding where a horse may reside during the breeding season.  Clearly, the rules need to change.  The integrity of the PA-sired program would have remained in place with a rule change or waiver granted.  Now thanks to this intransigence New Jersey gets a must needed boost to the detriment of Pennsylvania..

The time to change the rules is now.

Harness Briefs:  Congratulations to Ronnie Wrenn Jr. on winning the North American Dash Title in 2014 over Aaron Merriman with the final totals being 849 to 839; the race coming down to the last night of 2014 in all places Michigan.  Speaking of Michigan, Sports Creek Raceway has been ordered to cease all racing operations, including simulcasting, due to a lack of a contract with the MHHA.  Followers of racing at Freehold will hear a new voice as Meadowlands announcer Ken Warkentin takes over announcing duties while continuing to work up the road in East Rutherford.  Warkentin's double duty is thanks to a job sharing agreement between the two New Jersey trotting tracks.  Trevor Henry was Canada's leading dash winner with 472 victories.  I wonder how long it will be before we see Henry in the States.  Overall, wagering in the United States on standardbred racing dropped 6.67% with 185 fewer racing cards.  While the overall handle dropped, all is not bad as wagering per race has increased 2.18%.  Late closing series start at the Meadowlands next week with one important change.  If any division has trailers, the races will go at a distance of 1 1/8 miles instead of the standard mile.