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Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Dead Before it is Built; Getting Tough on Program Trainers

I've said it before, I say it now.  The Lawrence Downs Casino and Racing Resort will never be built.  The state of Pennsylvania should pull the plug on this project once and for all.  Penn National Gaming, which was going to manage the project has decided to back out, a move which no doubt will end up in court as they were going to provide a significant amount of financing for the project, putting Endeka Entertainment in serious trouble.   

Penn National Gaming (PNG) argues the saturation of gaming in the area makes it hard to get financing.  No doubt there is a saturation of gaming in the region, especially with the gaming available in Eastern Ohio, which happens to be operated by PNG.  Endeka is now taking PNG to court, claiming they entered into the partnership knowing they would back out due to the saturation.

I am no legal expert, so I won't comment on the merits of Endeka's claims.  I do know there is an over saturation of gaming when you look at Ohio, PNG also claims the same situation occurs in Pennsylvania.   What I do know is the proposed site is relatively close to the Meadows.  As long as the Meadows will race year-round, there is no need for another track in the Western part of the state.

Were I the regulators, I would give Endeka one year to choose an alternate site in the state; perhaps in the central part of the state to identify a location for a track where the competition with other tracks and gaming sites would be minimized.  After that, I would pull the license and put it on the shelf.

Lawrence Downs will never be built.  It is about time everyone admits it.                                                                          '

Program trainers are a scourge at many tracks for all breeds.  The Racing Officials 
Accreditation Program (ROAP) is working this year on the problem of program trainers. also known as beards.  Some people call the existence of program trainers a conspiracy because dealing with program trainers is basically done on a track level and it depends on the willingness to go through the steps necessary to prove a trainer is a beard.

As reported in  The Bloodhorse, what ROAP is proposing is the following:

The recommendations include investigating any person suspected of being a program trainer; develop enforceable penalties and sanctions for rule violations; and ensure that any such trainer, when suspected of being simply a name on the program page, be subject to a regular stewards' hearing. Owners would be brought into the process as well by being asked if they know who is actually training their horses.

It will be interesting to see how receptive commissions and tracks will be towards implementing the process necessary to deal with this issue.

In an effort to keep the supply of horses steady at the Meadowlands, a new series "The Spring Preview" will be established for green horses.  Races for NW1 and NW2 will be offered with eliminations of $12,500 or $15,000 with finals worth $30,000 (NW1) or $35,000 (NW2) the following week.  There is a starting fee of $500 for the eliminations.  Expect to see more of these types of races (called 'overnight stakes' in the t-bred world) to help fill the entry box.  

Monday, March 30, 2015

Why Are Bandolito, Sting, Kingcole, Master Of Law & Archangel Up For The Big Tease HOF?

Recently a pair of speed demons who are shoo-ins for the Big Tease Hall of Fame retired from racing. Six-year-old Hurrikane Kingcole is shopping himself as a stallion prospect, while five-year-old Shebestingin has accepted an exalted position in the broodmare band of Captaintreacherous. And another blue chip candidate, the little Ponder lightning bolt, Bandolito, has also been grabbing headlines with his season’s best wire to wire win in 1:48.1 at Dover Downs for owner-trainer-driver Daryl Bier. What is it that sets this trio, and several others, apart from the rest? Many horses fool us, but the Big Tease Hall of Famers take it to another level.

Bandolito didn’t race at two, and the following year he knocked around the lower condition ranks in Pennsylvania, winning six times, and foreshadowing better things to come. In August he headed for The Red Mile and took a big bite out of the lucrative, but lightly subscribed to, Kentucky Sire Stakes account. Daryl Bier steered him to wins for 15 and $30,000, followed by an October 1st $250,000 final for Tim Tetrick. His nine wins in 11 starts were good for almost $190,000.

The following April Bandolito set a season’s record when he won at Dover Downs in 1:48; just as he has the fastest mile of the year in 2015. The problem is that all that speed hasn’t translated into a successful move up the class ladder. He did win an open-preferred HC at Dover, as well as a preferred pace at Pocono, after that fast mile, but he failed to convert in the Van Rose and Molson and subsequently missed four months.

Since then Bandolito has pretty much stayed in Delaware. The five-year-old has converted in 17 of 40 starts and earned almost $320,000, but he leaves us wanting more.

The same can be said of the Bettor’s Delight mare, Shebestingin. Sting went the fastest mile ever by a filly or mare when she won the Glen Garnsey at The Red Mile in 1:47 as a sophomore. She takes a back seat to only SBSW and He’s Watching in that age group. She also equaled the 1:49 world record for a three-year-old pacing filly when she won the EBC by 10 lengths at Tioga. And she set an all-performer track record at Miami Valley when she won the inaugural Chip Noble in 1:50.4 for David Miller.

While Bandolito has never bolstered his speed resume with an open stakes win, Shebestingin won the Nadia, Bluegrass and Matron. Still, it’s disappointing that she only took three of 14 starts at four and five, earning about $71,000.

Master Of Law, the fastest son of Deweycheatumnhowe, is another Big Tease. MOL didn’t race at two, and in the two and a quarter years since he’s only started 28 times, winning 11 of them and earning about $367,000. Like Bandolito, he won a $250,000 Kentucky Sire Stakes final in 2013. He raced under the tutelage of Frank Antonacci through the Hambletonian Maturity in early July of last year, where he broke stride and finished back. He’s not quite in the break or win mold of an Arndon or Arnie Almahurst, but in the same neighborhood.

Trot whiz Jimmy Takter took charge, and after shaky performances in the Vincennes and Crawford, he beat 1-9 Sebastian K, Creatine and Natural Herbie in the Centaur at Hoosier Park, over an off track at odds of 21-1 with Takter driving. As is customary with the Big Tease nominees, after his big win he was supported by the bettors in the Allerage Open and the American-National, and he broke in both. Since that time he has a couple of wins against lesser stock in five 2015 starts. In full stride the son of millionaire Breeders Crown winner, Possess The Magic, is a sight to behold, but maintaining his composure is an issue.

Archangel, the black Credit Winner speedball, wowed us when he won his Cashman elimination in a world record 1:50 in July. Driver Yannick Gingras wasn’t surprised, stating after the race that if the trotter hadn’t broken stride while following Sebastian K home in that one’s world record 1:49 mile at Pocono, he was sure Archangel would have been there at the wire.

Archangel also set a world record when he beat Market Share and Googoo Gaagaa in the Yonkers Trot. He broke Earl’s 19-year-old track record at Batavia in a split of the NYSS at three. He set a Vernon Downs track record of 1:53.4 in a division of the Empire Breeders Classic. Setting records was no problem. And despite sitting out his four-year-old season to get a jump start on his breeding career, Archangel earned more than a million dollars.

The hole in his game was that, aside from the Tompkins Geers, the Yonkers Trot was his only open stakes win. When he came back under Ron Burke’s direction for the 2014 season, he won only two of 17 starts, an open at Yonkers in late May and that record setting Cashman elimination. As is the case with all the rest, there was an impasse between speed and production.

The good news is that while Archangel had a problem attracting mares the first time around in New York, his book filled right up in trot stallion starved Ontario.

Last but not least is the double-time Cam’s Card Shark pacer Hurrikane Kingcole. The recently retired six-year-old has routinely pricked our attention with his mid-race sweeps to the top, but like his tease-mates a split of the Nassagaweya is all he has to show for that world class speed. He opened that race in :26.4 and finished the mile in a very fast 1:51.4, but that was way back in 2011, when he was a freshman. He won the Pace consolation in 1:47.3 and made the mile for Panther Hanover—another prime candidate—in his 1:47.2 win in the New Jersey Classic. Kingcole hit the ¾ mark in 1:18.2 in that one. But in the end, the long striding pacer Yannick Gingras says is the fastest he ever sat behind, only won at a 29% clip—14 for 49—and earned less than $600,000. Nothing wrong with those numbers, but they don’t live up to his fleetness of foot.

All of the above have exceptional speed, issues that keep them off the track more than their contemporaries, and a paucity of open stakes wins. Every one of them has thrilled us at one time or another and all have eaten more than their share of out betting dollars. Those are a few of the reason’s they’ve been nominated to the Big Tease Hall of Fame.

Joe FitzGerald



Hats Off to California Chrome and His Owners

Yes, you are reading the correct blog, but you must be puzzled seeing such a blog title from a self-professed harness racing fan who for the most part could care less about the runners.

To tell you the truth, not following the Sport of Kings, I could never understand what the fuss was about California Chrome last year.  Never watched one of his races last year so as far as I was concerned, he was just another thoroughbred (a very good one I would have conceded).  Didn't watch him race in Dubai either.

Then I saw a blurb that California Chrome was heading to jolly old England to race at Royal Ascot and being Ascot isn't till June, will likely race earlier in a stakes race to prep for Ascot.  Now my attention has been piqued.  Here is an American horse who flies off to the Middle East for a race and now heads to Europe to race in another prestigious race.  I still haven't watched the Dubai World Cup this year but this must be some horse to go around the world (okay, part of the world) to race against the best.  Rest assured, if he makes it to Ascot, I will be tuning in, reminding you this is a person who has zero interest in thoroughbred racing.

Now to bring this back to harness racing.  I intellectually understood what the 'Gural' rule was trying to accomplish but until I was writing this blog entry, midway through the third paragraph, I didn't really 'get it'.  Now I really know what Jeff Gural was saying about the sport needing stars that fans can follow.  Now, while many Kentucky Derby winners retire after their three year old season to head to the breeding shed, there are those such as California Chrome who keep on going.  Granted, the purse money for thoroughbred racing is much more lucrative, making it easier to make the decision to go on with a horse.  But the fact is they could have stopped with him or kept him in the States, but no, we have a world traveler knocking heads with the world.s best.  While I personally will follow Chrome alone and not becoming a thoroughbred fan, rest assured there will be those drawn in to the sport to see this wonder horse and sticking around.

Clearly, with the jettisoning of the Gural rule (I am not saying the decision should be revisited), harness racing needs to do its best to still offer the most lucrative four year old races to entice some of the better horses to stick around and race.

Meanwhile, we have the trotting mare Maven racing in Europe, and while her tour has not been a roaring success, she has raced credibly, finally winning a race which was restricted to those of her own sex.  Granted, she is over four and may continue to race a season or two more but she had the potential to become a super star in harness racing except for one problem.  Unlike the thoroughbreds, North America doesn't simulcast (with wagering) the big races in Europe when North American horses are racing.  If you are lucky, you may remember to go on YouTube to watch a replay of the race, but to be honest, unless you get to see a past performance page where you can appreciate the talent a horse like Maven races against as well as getting a race caller who calls the race in English. it is just another race.  Europe takes in America's top trotting races for its bettors to wager on, yet in North America, you would think there is no harness racing outside of the United States and Ontario.

While the Gural rule may have been scuttled outside of the tracks controlled by Jeff Gural, it is imperative that we get the best races in Europe and Australasia available for simulcasting even if not part of full card wagering.  At present, the USTA should talk to the major ADWs to get them to handle the big races abroad, even if not entire card.  If the USTA does offer a harness racing channel, it is a MUST that is covers the world's major races and if they are successful in establishing an ADW, they too need to offer wagering on these races.  We may have a hard time getting horses to stick around to become a marketable asset but when we have horses like Maven who keep on racing and doing their best to keep people interested, we need to make sure we get them the maximum amount of exposure with the racing public.

Wouldn't it be nice if someone in the thoroughbred world writes a blog entry titled 'Hats Off to Maven and Her Owners'?  Thanks to the lack of coverage outside of  North  America, such a blot title will likely never be seen.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Sunday Morning Briefs

Racing at Cooper Downs  photo from Facebook
Harness racing action returns to Cooper Downs Racetrack today.  Cooper Downs, you ask?  Odds are you never heard of it racing occurs at Cooper Downs Racetrack and Entertainment, a non-sanctioned meet conducted in Terry, Mississippi.  Some of  these drivers and horses may make an occasional foray to the Midwest tracks but for the most part the participants race for the love of the sport.

The great Monarch Content Group v. Mid-Atlantic Racing Cooperative stalemate ended after roughly four months.  The big losers?  The racing fans who couldn't bet on their favorite tracks.  This type of service disruption needs to stop.  One has to wonder if simulcast fees need to be regulated by racing commissions via a compact.  I am not saying the same fee should apply to all tracks, but based on handle, you can have three tiers of tracks with a different fee charged for Tier 1, Tier 2, and Tier 3 tracks.  Then this nonsense of holding the bettor hostage can end once and for all.

In a recent interview Phil Langley mentioned the USTA was considering establishing its own ADW.  Some may scoff but it could work.  The USTA is considering a subscription service to a harness racing network on the Internet where racing content, and related programming may be offered,  Well, if they are going to offer harness racing on the network, why not have an ADW network taking wagers on what is being broadcast?  If I may suggest one host for the program, i would like to put Ellie Sarama, who for some reason was dropped from the Little Brown Jug simulcast broadcast last year would be a natural for such a network.   The best thing about a harness racing ADW would tracks and horsemen would receive larger commissions than they currently do.

Of course, for the Meadowlands, such an ADW would only be partially beneficial.  Due to state law, the only ADW legal in the state is 4njbets, currently run by TVG; hence NJ residents who are Meadowlands fans would not be able to join a harness racing ADW, NJ horsemen and tracks would not be able to benefit fully.

Maven finally gets her first win of the European campaign at Solvalla yeterday. For those who have not seen the race, here is the replay.

With the victory, Maven has punched her own ticket to the Elitlopp.  It is just a question as to whether her connections accept the invite.

By now, you have heard how a federal prosecutor has charged four trainers with doping horses, the result if a case which resulted in a trainer taking a plea in a race fixing scandal.  Why some may fear such federal intervention at their local racetrack, I must confess, it would be great if the prosecutor could be cloned and they be put in charge of jurisdictions where tracks are located.

Someone has started a GoFundMe campaign to raise funds for marketing of harness racing in Michigan.  So far it has had a lot of views but little success as of now.  Is it the best plan to market?  I can't say not being in the Michigan area.  What I do know is the situation in Michigan isn't healthy and horsemen pockets are pretty empty, but if they aren't going to step up, who is?

I try to keep my personal politics out of this column but since Indiana's Governor has signed the Indiana Religious Restoration Act, I am be boycotting racing at Hoosier Park for the foreseeable future.  Some argue the impact of the IRRA is being exagerated, but there is no doubt as to what triggered it being passed.  That is good enough for me to support the boycott of Indiana. 

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Lessons From the Stronach Group

As you may have heard, the Stronach Group has been making changes in the thoroughbred world which could be used as a model for changes in the standardbred world.  In Florida, they in effect took over racing at Calder (while allowing Calder to retain the racino portion of the plant), creating a circuit between Gulfstream and Calder (now known as Gullfstream West).

Even more dramatic changes are occuring in Maryland where The Stronach Group operates both Laurel Park and Pimlico.  First of all, they are reducing the takeout rates at their an effort to improve the handle at their facilities.  In addition, to develop a year round circuit, racing at Delaware Park and in Virginia (wherever it may occur) will be controlled from a centralized race office.  Not only are horsemen benefiting by having a year round circuit, gamblers benefit by being familiar with all the participants (human and equine) and there are cost savings by having one central office.

Wouldn't racing in the New Jersey - Pennsylvania region benefit from such an approach?  Instead of competing with each other for horses, a coordinated schedule between Pocono Downs, Harrah's Philadelphia, and the Meadowlands would benefit everyone involved.  Imagine the Meadowlands racing primarily in the winter, November - February and then a three week meet leading up to the Hambletonian; Harrah's operating March - June; Pocono Downs operating July-October.  The tracks would have full fields with the best horses available.  With the Meadowlands operating in what has been their most lucrative months, they would. be able to increase their racing dates perhaps to five days a week.

Unfortunately, cooperation between the three tracks seems unlikely; with two of the tracks having slot revenue, why would they wish to cooperate with their poor cousin?  This leads me to wonder if it may be time to develop a circuit within the Gural-operated tracks.  As above, have the Meadowlands operate a winter meet and a three week super meet similar to The Red Mile with Tioga Downs book-ending the Meadowlands meet and Vernon Downs operating during the Summer,  Not only would this provide a circuit for the horses to race on all year, it would allow each track to be promoted in order to raise their profile.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Final Thoughts; The End of The Whip?

Some final thoughts regarding the need to change in harness racing and the resistance to change we are seeing.  The problem with the racing industry (it goes for all breeds), is all the individual interests have their own separate comfort zones and not only do they feel comfortable in their little boxes, they refuse to change their comfort zones because the risk they would need to take.

As an example, in my last blog entry, I raised a proposal of tracks adding races for four year olds and possibly reducing the value of stake races for two year olds and move that money into three year old and four year old events.  Now, I can't take credit for some divine inspiration as this proposal has been brought forth before and lord knows other proposals may work better, but soon after I published the last blog entry, I immediately got these comments (paraphraed):

  • "Our Owners are looking at buying yearlings with the idea of trying to his it big at two".
  • "Yearling buyers have no interest in racing four year olds, they unload their horses after their three year old campaign and buy new yearlings".
  • "Since the best three year olds will retire at the end of their three year old season, these four year old stake races will attract second class horses";
You know what, they are right.  They are right based on the current configuration of stake races.  Yearling buyers tend to be those who buy a horse for their two and three year old seasons and then get rid of them as they head off to life as an overnight horse.  They get rid of them because there is no real opportunities to make money as a four year because there are not enough lucrative stake races.  The best ones will go off to stud at four because there is no enough stake money available to offset the risk of their horse getting whooped at four and decreasing their stud's value.

They are right based on the way things currently are and they make their comments from their comfort zone.  They automatically see flaws in the idea floated (or for that fact any plan) because it will change their world and they fear change; they fear something might change in their comfort zone making things less comfortable.  

Yet the industry continues to suffer.  Instead of immediately shooting down any plan, why not talk to your customers and see what they would need to keep racing at four?  What would be the minimum amount of stake money they would need to see at two in order for the money to shift to three and four year old events?  Maybe yearling buyers would bail, others could return; we don't know.  Maybe the answer is keeping the stake races the way they are at two and just build up the value of four year old events, or develop a new proposal after speaking to your customers.. The point is breeders need to leave the comfort of their zone and investigate what life would be like with changes to stake races.  If it turns out they were right, so be it, but they may be surprised.

I am not trying to pick on breeders.  We could talk how trainers hate to enter horses into odd distance races and see why they refuse to enter.  Is it horses are bred for early speed?  Maybe a change needs to be made to how we breed, maybe it is a question of modifying the way we train them with more emphasis on stamina versus early speed?   What about the use of whips and drivers (see next story) or those who will resist RUS because they fear the 'change'?.

Everybody needs to get a less comfortable in their comfort zones and take risks, for taking those risks and stepping out of their comfort box is what is going to make racing live on in the future.


Whip Ban Coming to Australia?  A new study shows the horse's top layer of skin is as thin, if not thinner than human.  In addition, it is possible the horse has more nerve endings as well.  The result of this study suggests horses feel pain whenever they are whipped and it may result in the banning or severely restrict the use of whips in the Land of Oz.

If banned in Australia based on this study, one has to wonder how long it will be until this Australian study reaches North American shores and racing commissions reconsider the use of whips?  Rest assured the racing industry will be kicking and screaming should such an attempt be made.  After all, we have seen how quick the industry is to reject the status quo.

Bidding formally reopens for a casino in the Southern Tier of New York with Tioga Downs the only known bidder at  this time.  Of course, with only one region in play, new bidders or bidders who got rejected in the first round of bidding may decide to take a shot in the Southern tier.  Bids are due in July with a decision made in the fall.  

While everyone believes it is a formality that Tioga Downs will win the bid, I'm not as confident of that decision if others come in and develop new bids, ready to wow the site selection committee.

I hope I am wrong.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Where Do We Go From Here?

So, as people debate the aftermath of the decisions of the Hambletonian Society and WEG in addition to the response by Jeff Gural which resulted in the new policy at the Gural tracks regarding the off-spring of four year old sires which will apply starting in 2019 (as it would apply to those three year olds going to stud in 2016 without a medical exemption), the question to be asked is "Where Do We Go From Here?".

First, let's look at the reasoning for Gural's edict of going it alone.  As one of many people who have grown frustrated at the seemingly continuous state of inertia in the industry, I get extremely frustrated and feel at times like I want to hit my head against the wall arguing, "Don't these people get it?"; this a response from someone who at this time only has emotional skin in the game.  If I feel this way, could you imagine what a person who has invested million in this game feels like?  In fact, thanks to the excellent work of Gordon Waterstone at The Horseman and Fair World, you can get a good idea as to how Gural feels right now.  Couple his arguments presented in the article with the lack of support he receives by many horsemen at the Meadowlands, one can imagine he rues the day he acquired the lease to the New Jersey oval.  Life would have been much more simple for him had he let the Meadowlands go the way of Roosevelt Raceway.  I doubt few couldn't sympathize with his feelings right now.

As for me, I totally understand where Jeff Gural is coming from.  I also realize from past experience, he shoots from the hip initially and after some time passes, he often moderates his views so at this point I wouldn't be surprised if his total ban on the off-spring of four year old sires is modified.  Time will tell.  As I mentioned earlier, the million dollar question is where do we go from here?

Well, with the industry rejecting the stick approach, perhaps it is time to try the carrot approach which WEG is apparently going to do by offering races restricted to four year olds in an effort to keep the three year old sires racing the following year,  How can American tracks offer the carrot?

Each track, should break open the piggy bank (purse account) to offer a virtual pot of gold for at least one stake race each for four year old pacers and trotters to develop a circuit of races which would offer a potential fortune to tempt three year olds to remain on the track for at least one more year.  Tracks in non-slot states 'pot of gold' stakes may be relatively small but there is no excuse for slot tracks not to open their wallets to finance these races.

 There is no reason why we can't have horses stand stud and race; it's been done in Europe for years.   We should encourage the best of both worlds by allowing three year old to stand stud and race at the same time by offering at reduced stake payments for the off-spring of three year old sires who do double duty.  By offering the prospect of reduced stake payments to some stake races, the first crop of yearlings by such sires should command more at auction, thus providing financial incentives to breeders who would have reduced books while allowing horses to continue racing.

Lastly, and likely the hardest if not most impossible in the current environment would be changing the way we view stakes racing.  Instead of offering huge stakes races for two year olds, the majority of stakes money for age-specific events should be used towards three year old and four year old stakes races.  I am not saying there shouldn't be stakes races for two year olds, but two year old seasons should primarily be geared towards racing to learn as well as keeping more horses racing longer with less horses falling victim in the rush to cash out.  Instead of $600,000+ stakes, aren't $200,000 stake races sufficient for two year olds?

Maybe the approach Jeff Gural proposed wasn't good for breeders.  The challenge is now for breeders and racetracks to come up with an alternative which accomplishes what the Gural rule intended to accomplish.


Friday, March 20, 2015

Gural Goes it Alone

As expected, the Hambletonian Society is dropping the 'Gural Rule' starting with foals of 2018.  In addition to the Hambletonian Society, WEG is joining the Hambletonian Society in this decision as well, leaving the Meadowlands alone in keeping the rule in place.

In an act of both defiance and principle, the Meadowlands is changing its policies so any horse sired by a four year old will be banned from racing at all Gural tracks (with the exception of the Hambletonian) in all races; stakes, overnight, and even qualifiers (unsure of when it takes effect).   This will be a costly move for it will further reduce the pool of race horses available to the Gural tracks, especially the Meadowlands which is typically strapped for horses to fill its races.

This makes the need for slots at the Meadowlands even greater for less horses means less races which results in a smaller income stream, making it even harder to operate the track for the long term.  Hence if slots don't come to the Meadowlands, rest assure Gural will invoke the part of the lease which allows him to be reimbursed for building the new grandstand after which he will walk away.  Then we will see what happens when all Meadowlands stakes disappear.

In some ways, it appears Gural has thrown in the towel regarding the sport, worrying now about his tracks and doing what he feels is right for them while the industry continues with its 'grab the money while it's there' attitude.  One can't blame him.  It has been obvious for a while there has been a    backlash against Gural as he iss unwilling to join in the proverbial state of inaction which pervades the sport.  Hence, the Gural tracks are going their own way.

I support what Jeff Gural is doing.  I do fear, at least with the Meadowlands, it will basically become an island.  The question is how lonely it will be?

The platitudes for Jim Doherty keep on coming.  His hometown newspaper, The Guardian, discusses how much of a gentleman he was.  Considering how long it has been since he was in the Canadian Maritimes, it says something that The Guardian even mentioned his passing.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Thursday Briefs

And so it begins.  The Downs at Mohegan Sun Pocono (yes, a name change) is open and on Saturday, the Meadowlands dropped one race yet has only 8.25 starters per race on the card with five races at the bottom levels of the claiming and conditioned ranks.  Come next week when Harrah's Philadelphia opens, the average may drop further.

While getting horsemen to drop into the entry box  at the Meadowlands is a challenge, when it comes to amateur races, it doesn't seem to be a problem.  Two full fields of ten will be on the card Friday night, providing relief to in putting together the card.  Some will grown at the prospect of amateurs on the card, but there are some competent drivers racing.  In addition, these races will be competed at full throttle the entire mile.

You have to wonder what, if anything, the Meadowlands will do to mark the passing of Jim Doherty?  Being Doherty had raced at the Meadowlands since its opening through 2013, you would think something should be done to note his passing.  If the Meadowlands can have the Buddy Gilmour late closing series, naming the next late closer to be developed the James Doherty would be a fitting commemoration.

Later this year, the Meadowlands will host 13 days of Monmouth Park at Meadowlands thoroughbred racing on the turf course from September 24 through October 31.   The thoroughbreds were hoping to run 22 days of both turf and dirt racing but no agreement could be made on who would pay the cost to convert the track for thoroughbred racing and back to harness racing.  Based on what was mentioned when racing dates were first applied for, odds are expectations were for the thoroughbred horsemen to pay the entire cost, something they obviously were unwilling not to do.   This is something surprising because fall rains last year resulted in the cancellation of a few dates which meant no racing.  Having the dirt track available would mean no dates would be lost.

Friday night starts the Bluechip Matchmaker Series at Yonkers and an interesting possibility shows up in 5th race where Carolesideal figures to go off an overwhelming favorite from the rail.  However, on the far outside is co-Aged Mare Pacer of the Year, Anndrovette at 6-1.  Coming off two qualifiers, she is not to be disregarded.  It is a question of whether you can get value.

While the ladies take to the track on Friday, the boys kick off things Saturday night in the first leg of the George Morton Levv series and there is an interesting horse in the second division (6th race).  Polka A starts from the rail in making his first start in North America.  His qualifier was good and lifetime earnings in excess of $219,000; a respectable amount in Australia.  The qualifier at the Meadowlands shows the horse may ready at first asking.  At 5-1 he may be worth a look but lower than that threshold, I would pass.

In the third division, Foiled Again makes his season debut and lists a 3-1.  While not a walkover, there is a good chance he will score in his first start back but then it is a question of  value.  If you are looking for someone else, Apprentice Hanover is worth a look at 6-1.

West Virginia's budget proposal calls for $2 million in purse subsidies for racing (greyhound, thoroughbred) to be shifted to pay for Medicaid programs.  There is really nothing else to be said about this; it stands on its own.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Let the Race to be First Begin!

Now that Racing Under Saddle has been approved, let the race for the first state to offer parimutuel wagering begin.  Make no mistake, the USTA approving rules for RUS gives legitimacy to the sport.  Proponents of RUS can now go to their state racing commissions with a set of model rules for their commissions to approve.

The biggest obstacle proponents may run into is from thoroughbred interests who may argue RUS should be considered the domain of the runners.  This is why the term jockey should not be used when referring to the riders.  An argument against the runner's claim on racing under saddle is simple.  In thoroughbred racing, the goal of a jockey is to get the horse to go full out and have their horses run full out at a gallop, the horses natural gait, while a standardbred rider's purposes is to ride the  horse and hold them together at a trot.  

In some states, legislation defines what harness racing is; depending on how it is written it may be necessary to modify the existing statute to allow for RUS racing.  This change may eliminate any claim the thoroughbred industry may have on RUS.

Why the need for the rush to be first?  Make no mistake, while the rules were approved by the USTA, there are doubters of RUS.  Some of it comes from never seeing it before, some the hesitation from dinosaurs refusing to consider anything new to change the product presented..   The only way to convince these doubters is for them to see parimutuel wagering on RUS so they see how successful it can be.  Let's face it, tracks citing insurance issues will have no problem finding the funding for insurance premiums if they see RUS being accepted at the wagering windows.

One concern I have regarding RUS, is the physical ability of riders to participate in races.  Exhibition races on the 'A' circuit have been conducted professionally with horses well ridden.  However, in some races, there were riders unprepared physically who raced and it showed.  For the safety of all participants, I hope the requirement to show physical ability is taken seriously.  In Europe, riders are required to pass a physical test showing the candidate has the strength in order to participate in RUS events.  I hope a similar test is required in North America before riding license are issued; perhaps not this year, but most certainly by the time wagering is allowed.  Not only will it make for better racing, it will provide safety for all involved.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Top Filly Pacers Stumbling On The Way To The Open Class

After finishing an uninspiring second in a recent start against a soft field at the Meadowlands, the world champion pacing mare Shebestingin was retired. Typically an announcement like this is accompanied by an addendum about the injuries the daughter of Bettor’s Delight would have needed to overcome in order to regain her form, but trainer Joe Holloway simply said, “She isn’t firing.” Certainly not like she did when she won the Glen Garnsey in an eye popping 1:47 at The Red Mile. They’ve sold a piece of ‘Stingin to Brittany Farms and they’re going to breed her to their stallion, Captaintreacherous.

The mercurial five-year-old only started 36 times; she drew lots of attention with the bursts of speed she evidenced in the Simpson, Reynolds and Geers at two, but the precocious filly scratched out of the Sweetheart at the beginning of August and didn’t reappear until nine months later in the Weiss at Pocono. In addition to the world record ‘Stingin set in Lexington, she also set one at Tioga when she won the EBC final in 1:49. Still, while Shebestingin did win the Nadia and the Matron and earn almost three-quarters of a million dollars, the mare’s earnings and significant win tally have never lived up to her speed. She’s Drop The Ball’s soul sister in that regard.

Last year Holloway’s dynamic duo, Shebestingin and Somwherovrarainbow were expected to take over for long-serving veterans Anndrovette and Rocklamation in that division, but it didn’t happen, as the old ladies finished in a dead heat for the Dan Patch. On the other hand, Rainbow made do with a Matchmaker win, while ‘Stingin didn’t have any noteworthy triumphs.

Over the last several years we’ve repeatedly seen mares that lit up the night during their freshman campaigns fail to matriculate on into the aged ranks, while others that started off at a more measured pace have gone on to flourish in the open class.

Rocklamation and Anndrovette, who together have banked more than $5 million, each won just once as two-year-olds. The former made 12 starts, and did win the Countess Adios, but her earnings for the year were a relatively modest $86,000. Anndrovette earned less than $10,000 at two. Each of them went on to win the Lady Maud the following year, but it was in their respective sire stakes programs that they filled their pockets.

Dreamfair Eternal, who earned almost $2.5 million, was winless at two and earned only $24,000 on four wins at three. Monkey On My Wheel won the Breeders Crown at three, but that was her only open stakes win as a filly. Yagonnakissmeornot and Royal Cee kept relatively low profiles in the junior ranks. Charisma Hanover won the Lady Maud and the American National, but most of her success came in the PASS  program. Shelliscape has earned more than a million dollars, but most of it came in the aged ranks. All of these mares have held up through successful aged campaigns.

The headline makers from the filly ranks, on the other hand, have had problems going on and maintaining their success. Put On A Show set a world earnings record when she won 19 races and banked more than $1.9 million at two and three, but the winner of the She’s A Great Lady, Nadia and Breeders Crown, missed her entire four-year-old season due to injury. She did return and win half of her 25 starts at five, including a world record 1:47.3 performance at the Meadowlands, before being retired.

See You At Peelers won all 13 starts at two and nine of 12 at three. She won her division twice and was on the way to Horse of the Year honors when a virus that resulted in heart and lung issues ruined her season. She came back for the Matchmaker in the spring of 2012, but was retired before that series ended.

American Jewel followed Peelers. The American Ideal filly won 8 of 9 at two, including the Countess Adios, She’s A Great Lady and Eternal Camnation. But she was diagnosed with a broken sesamoid bone after losing to Big McDeal in a world record 1:50.2 at The Red Mile, and subsequently missed the Breeders Crown. She rebounded the following year, winning 9 of 16 starts and earning more than $1.1 million. The winner of the Breeders Crown, Fan Hanover and American National won her division. She was retired in November and bred to SBSW.

Jewel’s early exit at two cost her the division title, as Economy Terror won the Breeders Crown. That one also won the Three Diamonds in a world record 1:50.3 at Chester. But as has been the case with so many freshman hotshots, the Western Terror filly only won once outside the PASS at three and has struggled in the aged ranks.

American Jewel’s stablemate Romantic Moment also earned a million dollars, most of it at two and three, when she took the Eternal Camnation, Valley Forge and Garnsey, in addition to a successful run in the NYSS. The American Ideal filly, who won in 1:50.1 at three, came back at four but managed only four wins for $68,000. Like so many other mares who nailed it at two and three, she couldn’t convert that success into a rewarding career as an open mare pacer.

The following year, 2012, Somwherovrarainbow, the SBSW filly out of Rainbow Blue, and the Rocknroll Hanover filly, I Luv The Nitelife, ruled. A win in the Breeders Crown got Rainbow a Dan Patch, while Nitelife, who won the Eternal Camnation, She’s A Great Lady and Fan Hanover in Canada, took the O’Brien. Rainbow regressed at three, becoming a big fish in a small pond, as she was a dominant player in the PASS but a no show on the GC. Nitelife, on the other hand, gobbled up every open dollar in sight; she took home $1.2 million at three, earning more at two and three than any pacing filly ever. And she set a 1:48.4 world record for a sophomore filly on a 5/8 track.

Nitelife got hurt in her final start of the 2013 campaign—the American National—and was retired after a brief two-race attempt at a comeback last year. She was sold to Diamond Creek Farm.

Rainbow did race, but she didn’t pose any sort of challenge to Anndrovette or Rocklamation. She earned $440,000, but more than half of it came from the Matchmaker Series, the final of which was her only significant win. If she does ratchet up her game and win a Dan Patch this year, she would join Eternal Camnation as the only pacing mares to win the division at age two and age five.

The Art Major filly, Precocious Beauty, was the 2013 division winner and the top three-year-old filly pacer coming into last year, but she had lost her mojo in the fall and didn’t regain it at three as she only captured one open stakes race—the American National. Uffizi Hanover, who won the Breeders Crown, also fell off, despite a win in the Fan Hanover.

And now it’s up to JK She’salady to break the chain and go on to an aged career as Shady Daisy. The Gural rule is supposed to ensure that four-year-old attractions keep racing. JK She’s, if she continues on her current course, would prove a much more compelling attraction than any of the boys in the aged ranks, but, of course, the rule doesn’t cover mares. Let’s see if all those very fast early miles take the same toll on her they have on most of these other twenty-first century fillies.

Joe FitzGerald

Head Shaking Moments

One thing which never fails is there is a head shaking moment at the USTA Annual Meeting.  This year's came when they discussed the proposed rule changes; allowing directors to make comments about the proposals.

When bringing up the proposals regarding RUS, the presenter mentioned the good thing about RUS is it allows for more wagering interests (at least 12 on the mile track in a single row; 10 on a half mile oval).  There was no mention on how it would make the sport attractive to a new demographic, females as participants, horse owners, and gamblers; it also would provide variety for racing fans.

Also mentioned was his belief it would be years before there is parimutuel wagering.  Why?  I don't know.  It took no more than two or three years before there was wagering in Canada on RUS.  True, once the USTA rules are adopted, there will be a need for racing commissions to approve rules and in some states, possibly legislative changes to the rules to allow RUS as a permissible form of standardbred racing, but years?  Various states will proceed at different rates, but there is no reason why the first states couldn't have RUS racing with wagering in a year or two.  To his credit, the rules presenter did indicate Ontario has has RUS races and handle on those races either matched or surpassed typical wagering on those races.

Then came the comments from the crowd.  Director Sam Beegle mentioned that Pennsylvania wouldn't have RUS racing, claiming the tracks didn't want it due to the need for a more expensive insurance premium for RUS versus traditional races (it may be true); under current rules, any profit would go to thoroughbred interests.  As a result they have no interest in it.

Well, the tracks may not want it due to the insurance costs but trust me if RUS racing becomes successful elsewhere, the tracks would reconsider it even with higher insurance costs.  Pennsylvania is rewriting their racing rules via legislation so if Pennsylvania horsemen were so inclined, they could have worked this bill to get RUS racing under the purview of standardbred racing.

But my question is why these objections were brought up?  Don't plan on racing RUS for whatever reason, fine; there is no reason to object to the proposed rule changes.  At worst, the Pennsylvania attitude should be "While RUS isn't for us, go knock your socks off.  The rule doesn't change what we will do or not."   The worst attitude for non-believers of RUS should be indifference, changing the rules doesn't change a thing for them.

If people who oppose RUS were honest with themselves, their real objection would be they like things the way they are.  They don't want to see RUS because it is something different; something they don't understand or fear as a threat to the status-quo, as if the status-quo is good.

Here lies the problem with many of the established USTA Directors, they lack the vision or courage to change,  If you have problems unique to your state (such as the profit going to another breed), you go and work on it; you don't try to torpedo a proposed rule change.  If you don't think your members want to race RUS, go ahead pass the bill for those who want to try it.  What's the harm in letting those who want to try RUS do it?   You don't stand in their way.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Langley Wins Re-election as USTA President

Phil Langley was re-elected President of the USTA overwhelmingly over Jason Settlemoir by a tally of 38-13.  It became clear through Langley's 'stump' speech before the vote, the election was a referendum on Jeff Gural.  

What specifically turned the election to Langley?  No doubt the so-called 'Gural Rule' regarding 4yos needing to race instead of heading to a breeding career turned breeders against Gural.  It also seemed the proposal to have slot tracks and horsemen contribute to a marketing program further turned the election in favor of Langley.

Does this mean it will be the same-old USTA?  Time will tell.  While the leadership remains the same, it does seem some effort is being made to move the organization forward, the question is how fast?  One distressing comment made was the success of getting slots at many track which suggests the organization will continue advocating its reliance on slots instead of working on ways to make the sport more self-reliant.

James Doherty Passes

It was with a heavy heart that I learned of the passing of James 'Jim' Doherty this morning (he passed yesterday) at the age of 74.  I remember Doherty when the Meadowlands first opened as a driver who came down from new England to try his luck at the new track and he was successful, becoming a regular who raced against the best in the industry for the longest of times..

If you are of my generation, who didn't recall Green With Envy racing every week in the F&M Open Paces at the Meadowlands?  Later, who didn't remember Fools Goal, a horse he trained and let others drive?  

Doherty was an unassuming man, yet one of the greats in harness racing.  He probably wasn't appreciated as much as he should have in his racing days but the loss was ours, not his.  This man from Atlantic Canada followed the path of many great drivers who cut their teeth racing in Atlantic Canada and then moving down to New England before heading to the big time.  Whether racing in New York or New Jersey, he was a force to be reckoned with.

I was going to write about something else today, but it doesn't seem right to do so.  We lost one of the great ones and the harness racing world seems to be poorer for it.  They don't make driver/trainers like James Doherty anymore.  May he rest in peace.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Friday Morning Briefs and News

RUS Ontario announces its first two race dates for the 2015 season which kicks off May 15 at Western Fair District then moves on to Flamboro Downs on May 17.  In addition, riders will need to follow a more stringent qualification process to get licensed for the 2015 season.  I'm all for a more extensive qualifying systems for riders as it will help mishaps.

Rumor has it with the installation of a new Tapeta track at Woodbine, the standardbreds will move full time to Mohawk Racetrack in 2016.  While I doubt horsemen want to lose the presence at Woodbine, for the most part many love to race at Mohawk so I think standardbred horsemen will be for the most part happy if this decision comes to fruition.

Derick Giwner discusses the fact there is no coordination between post times as well the problem of too many tracks operating at the same time.  We've been arguing about this for the longest time.  A good start at a minimum would be the adoption of the European method for races times, the first race is referred to as the 16:45 at Any Track.

Unconfirmed reports indicate the 'Gural Rule' regarding four year old stallions is about to be dropped by an organization.  Whether tracks who currently have similar conditions in their own stakes races will follow is unknown.

We can speculate why the rule is being repudiated.  No doubt breeders have expressed their dissatisfaction with the restriction, especially as many of the 2013 three year old stars had less than stellar four year old seasons.  Some may argue the addition of new stakes races for four year olds makes the rule unnecessary, but I would argue the industry didn't come up with sufficient races to make the risk of racing at four worthwhile.

My biggest regret is if this reversal is true and becomes the standard for the industry, the experiment of 'going European', racing and breeding at the same time will come to an end after this year.  Given enough time, I think more breeders would have tried this approach but if things go back to normal, racing and breeding at the same time will become an even greater exception.

This weekend is the USTA's annual meeting being highlighted by a contested Presidential election between incumbent Phil Langley and Jason Settlemoir.  I have my suspicion how this election will go, but I will keep it to myself.  I previously voiced my opinion and will leave it at that.  Of the rule changes of note, is a bunch of rules for RUS racing; something imperative to get RUS on the wagering menu at some tracks.  Here's hoping for a productive meeting.

The Meadowlands is now offering a guarantee on the Jackpot Super High-Five when only one winning ticket is hit.  For those who like jackpot wagers, it makes the High-Five an even more attractive wager.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Nominations Off For Levy And Matchmaker

Nominatons for the upcoming Levy Series at Yonkers are off 17% from 2014, while Matchmaker nominations are down a whopping 41%. There were 39 mares nominated to this series last year, but only 23 were staked for the 2015 edition.

The situation is similar to what is happening in the Petticoat and Sagamore Hill Series at Yonkers. In 2014 the first leg of the former featured five divisions consisting of 37 fillies and mares, while this year there were only two divisions of seven each.

The Sagamore Hill started out with eight splits involving 63 horses on opening night last year, while there were only five splits involving 38 starters this year.

The Meadowlands has already cancelled the Artistic Vision, Giant Victory and Ima Lula due to lack of interest.

Joe FitzGerald

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Australian UDRs for North American Drivers

In the final wrap up concerning the WDC, it may be of interest to some how Tim Tetrick and Jody Jamieson  adapted to the Australian style of racing.  Thanks to our friends at Harness Racing Australia, we have the driving statistics for the two drivers.

  • Jody Jamieson (2/21-3/7)  30 starts, 5 wins, 2 seconds, 4 thirds, $79,123   UDR 0.255
  • Tim Tetrick        (2/21-3/1)  25 starts, 3 wins, 3 seconds, 3 thirds, $49,900   UDR 0.240
These statistics include not only races which were part of the WDC, but also catch drives picked up outside of the contest.  While broken out in HRA statistics, for our purposes money earned and number of stake wins at metropolitan and county meets have been combined.  Clearly they both adapted pretty well to the style of racing conducted in Australia.

I am amazed at the statistics available to the general public from HRA.  If you have never visited their website, I encourage you to do so.

Elsewhere, we saw earlier this winter cancellations due to snow.  Well, with the late-winter thaw, tracks are cancelling due to the that wrecking havoc on their racing surfaces on both sides of the border.  Freehold, Monticello, Northfield Park, Western Fair have been some of the tracks cancelling.  Well, if you are going to race up north in the winter, you have to expect to lose racing dates due to thawing. 

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

The Witch and the Wiggle

The promising pacers Witch Dali and Wiggle It Jiggleit are giving a much needed boost to their novice stallions, ten-year-old Dali and nine-year-old Mr Wiggles. Neither one has faced top stock so it’s not the sort of lift McWicked has given to McArdle or Sayitall Bb to Tell All, nonetheless it is significant.

The lightly raced four-year-old pacing mare, Witch Dali, who breezed to a win in the first leg of the Petticoat at Yonkers the other night for Tim Tetrick and Alagna Racing, previously won the Niagara final at Woodbine and the Worldly Beauty at the Meadowlands, and she was also second in the Burning Point final.

Dali is a son of Real Artist, who also produced Ginger And Fred, Kikikatie, Real Nice, Southwind Lynx and Whatanartist. Real Artist, who stands in Pennsylvania, was a flawless yearling who brought $100,000. Ligament issues plagued him throughout his brief career; he won just two of nine starts, one of them being the Wilson. His son Dali won nine times as a colt, capturing, among others, the Wilson, Niatross and Burlington Pace. Dali banked more than $1.4 million. He hasn’t raced regularly since 2010, although he did make one start in 2011 and two more in preferred company in Ontario last spring.

Witch Dali is from the Medio family, which has produced top notch pacing mares like Anndrovette, Put On A Show, My Little Dragon, Strike An Attitude and Elegantimage. Her third dam, Bruce’s Lady, is a full sister to Dragon’s Lair and Cole Muffler. And her dam, Whitesand Janice, earned $234,000.

Dali, who began his stallion career in Indiana, then relocated to Ontario, and is now back in the Hoosier state, has 136 foals on the ground, 60 of which have made some money. Only a couple of crops have raced to this point. Four-year-olds Weatherly, who raced in the Ontario Sire Stakes, and Blacktree, who earned $85,000 in the OSS and in overnights in Canada, at the Meadowlands and at Yonkers, are probably the best of the rest.

Putting aside a small test crop Dali bred in 2010, when he made 26 starts, this is his fifth year of stud duty. The side trip to Ontario probably hurt in the long run, as it worked against him developing an enduring presence in Indiana. Ideally he’ll be battling Always A Virgin and Rockin Image for some of that sire stakes money.

Wiggle It Jiggleit has only made a handful of starts; he won a Sonsam preliminary and the first two legs of the Gilmour. He’s been very impressive thus far. George Teague, who is no stranger to quality colts, has been effusive in his praise of the son of his stallion Mr Wiggles and has nominated him to the Meadowlands Pace and the North America Cup.

Mr Wiggles had one very good year, at three, when he won 8 of 23 starts and banked almost a millon dollars. He has only sired 21 horses and only one other, besides Wiggle It Jiggleit, has made any money--$648. On the other hand, there are only eight in the current three-year-old class, so the sample size is tiny.

Mr Wiggles is a son of the Western Hanover stallion, Badlands Hanover, who won 8 of his 14 starts at two, including the Breeders Crown, Niatross and Bluegrass. He became the sport’s fastest freshman when he broke Artsplace’s mark with a 1:50 mile. Unfortunately he didn’t go on at three, winning only one of 11 starts. Mr Wiggles’ 2015 freshman class is eligible to the Ohio Sire Stakes.

Wiggle It Jiggleit’s third dam is a half-sister to the dam of Steinam’s Place, a winner of $1.4 million and the dam of Put On A Show and Showherthemoney. And his second dam was a multiple stakes winner. He is, like Witch Dali, from the Medio family.

It’s always nice to see off-brand stallions experience success. The stars of the aged pacing mares division, like Anndrovette, are warming up in qualifiers, and the better three-year-olds won’t be far behind. The connections of Witch Dali and Wiggle It Jiggleit are likely to stay out of their way, but you never know.

Joe FitzGerald

Tuesday Briefs

You know it is never a good sign when a track doesn't pay its obligations to another track acting as your clearinghouse for simulcast wagers and that is the situation Scarborough Downs finds themselves in; owing money to Suffolk Downs.  Suffolk Downs claims Scarborough owes over $179,000 while Scarborough says the amount is much less.  It doesn't really matter how much it is, if you can't forward the money you owe other tracks for wagers made on their races, you have problems.

Those  of you who have not experienced French-style racing yet, Yonkers Raceway is sending races on the later part of their card to PMU today.  Races 8-12 are 1 1/4 mile tilts with 12 and 10 horses in the races.  Scheduled post time for race 8 is 3:20 pm.   Even if you don't wager on the races, watch the races and see what racing could look like if we got progressive.

The writing was on the wall when John Manzi retired from Monticello Raceway.  What would happen to the promotions the track used to have, in particular the Heritage Series?  In a short answer, 'Gone'.  The Heritage series races are contested through the year where races would be restricted to certain drivers based on their heritage with a final at the end of the year.  Granted, these promotions probably did little to help the bottom line at the Raceway, but other than a press release or two and a trophy (or a box of matzo for the Passover Pace), the cost was minimal.  If nothing else, these races were a tradition at the Sullivan County oval.  It is a shame all the work Manzi seemed to do at the track is being wiped away.

Heather Vitale if nothing else is fearless, as she took to the announcer's booth Saturday evening for the first time ever to call a race live as she was invited to call the second race at Pompano Park.  As one would expect, her race calling is a 'work in progress'.

I give Vitale credit for trying on a such public stage; that took guts.  Just the same, I don't think she will be giving up her Post Time Show or PA Harnessweek for the life of an announcer anytime soon.

On the Outside Looking In?  Although part of the Virginia Equine Alliance, I can't help but have a feeling that standardbred horsemen may on the outside looking in this year at Colonial Downs.  Negotiations between the HBPA and Colonial Downs regarding leasing the facility are under way and while negotiations may include provisions for standardbred racing, the HBPA tend to worry only about their own.

Yonkers Raceway has announced a 20% purse increase across the board in response to the opening of additional racetracks which could cause them a shortage of race horses; this is an  annual routine.  Good for Yonkers, doing what they need to do to present the best horses they can but one has to wonder how/if the Meadowlands will respond.  Whether or not there are funds for a purse increase in New Jersey remains to be seen but I see Peter Koch earning his money trying to put competitive fields together.

Speaking of Yonkers, Tim Tetrick was interviewed and offered his opinion on longer races.

Best wishes to driver Ron Pierce who has finally decided to undergo long overdue surgery.  Here's hoping the recovery goes as well as he hopes, if not quicker.  I  look forward to his return.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Nasty But Productive Trotters

Some trotters—Triple Crown winner Super Bowl, for instance—are easy going by nature, while others—many of the fillies—are high strung and difficult to deal with. It’s noteworthy that many of the latter variety have had a very positive effect on the breed and the sport, their sour personalities notwithstanding.

Nevele Pride, who won the Triple Crown and broke Greyhound’s longstanding world record when he time trialed in 1:54.4 at Indianapolis, was vicious to the point where he was always handled with a bull pole. His stall at various raceways was always cordoned off from the public, lest some unsuspecting soul lose a digit or two. His cantankerous disposition may have been inherited from his mama, the Hoot Mon mare, Thankful, who carried the nickname “Little Evil.”

Noble Victory was another “sweetheart.” He was a great two-year-old and retired the fastest trotter in a race, thanks to a 1:55.3 win at DuQuoin. I believe he was also the subject of the first million dollar syndication. His get in general were hard to handle, but his son Noble Gesture was extremely high strung and a danger to his stall. He died of a heart attack at 13, but three years before passing, his son Balanced Image was born. He didn’t suffer from the same fertility issues that plagued his daddy and granddad, but he was big, bad and not to be trifled with while in his stall. And many of his get were in turn rough cut and aggressive.

Stars Pride’s Triple Crown winning son, Ayres, was at the other end of the spectrum, stature wise, from Balanced Image, but he was an equally peevish little sucker. Another shorty with a nasty disposition is the Conway Hall trotter, Wishing Stone. The winner of $2.2 million is out of a Valley Victory mare.

Speedy Somolli, the first trotter to win a race in under 1:55 and Valley Victory’s paternal granddad, was the devil himself. Valley Victory’s grandson, Self Possessed, the sire of Cantab Hall and the star-crossed Snow White, was no walk in the park either.

Impish, who trotted in a world record 1:58.3 at the Red Mile more than 50 years ago, was a temperamental diva. When Frank Ervin put Impish and stablemate Sprite Rodney in a double harness and set a world record of 1:59.2 with the pair, they fought each other every step of the way.

D Train, the Donerail mare who is the dam of Donato Hanover and Here Comes Herbie, is another screwball. Noble Gal, a daughter of Noble Victory, who captured her division at three, is another. And add Elitlopp winner Elma to the list. Division winner at two and three, Superlou, is another filly who spelled trouble but got it done on the track. Stars Pride’s daughter Meadow Bright, who also took her division at two and three also fits the bill.

The iconic roan filly Merrie Annabelle, who won 10 in a row at two, equaling Scott Frost’s 2:00 record in the Hanover Filly Stakes at The Red Mile, was very headstrong. She died in a freak accident shortly after that.

The Nevele Pride mare, Panty Raid, who won the first World Trotting Derby and was Trotter of the Year at three, only lived until age six, but that year she had a Speedy Crown filly named Dormitory, who was vicious and would regularly attack people. Dormitory produced a Super Bowl filly named Super Nice five years later, and she won the Merrie Annabelle. It all comes together in the end for these nasty, but productive, trotters.

Joe FitzGerald


He's Back!

The seemingly ageless wonder, Foiled Again, is back, winning his first qualifier of the season, winning in 1:54.3 at the Meadowlands.  At this age, the question needs to be asked, why bring him back?  After all, a horse that earns more than $6 million dollars deserves a nice retirement.  The answer is, keep bringing him back provided you don't cheapen him.  If he can keep racing in the upper echelons there is no reason to stop with him.  No doubt there will be faster horses that will show up and win their share of races , but as long as he can go out there, compete, not disgrace himself, and he's happy, there is no reason to stop.

After all, isn't this what the sport is looking for?  Foiled Again is the modern day Rambling Willie.  He goes out there and does his best.  Sure, at this age he loses his share of race, but one thing you can't argue is he goes out and does his best.  As much as people love the horse which doesn't lose, they have even more appreciation for a horse which grinds his way through every race; it's a pleasure to watch.  I look forward to watching Foiled Again this year.  He promises to be one of the highlights of the year.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Races We (Likely) Won't See; Timoko Cruises and Maven Places

Adore Me, who just last week set the world record for a pacing mare on any size track, has been retired as the result of 'lameness' which became apparent as she pulled up after finishing second in the Auckland Cup.  Turns out the lameness was actually a broken sesamoid bone.  As much as there were hopes for even better things from this mare, it will have to come from the breeding shed, not on the track.

What a shame for racing.  As much as Australian horses have not panned out in the top ranks of North American racing, it would have been interesting to see Adore Me try her luck in the Northern Hemisphere.

Harness Racing Update reports that a Timoko vs. Sebastian K matchup in the Yonkers International Trot is not likely.  The reason?  Scheduling.  The International is tentatively scheduled for October 10, the Saturday before Breeders Crown eliminations.  It is also the last day of the Lexington meet which the last day has the Allerage Trot, which is currently on Sebastian K's dance card.  At first blush, having the International on the same day as closiing day at Lexington makes no sense but if you want European horses to stick around for the Breeders Crown, you can't have down time; they are here to race and go home.    Is there away to resolve scheduling problems like this?  Not very likely; the only thing I think which could be done is to raise the purse on the International to tempt horses away from Lexington; but at $1 million already how much higher do you go?

Do  you long for the days when post time meant post time?  If so, French racing may be what you pine for.  PMU televises both standardbred and thoroughbred racing and they list post times for races and they adhere to it.  For example, if you look at the screen shot from the fourth race at Cagnes-Sur-Mer, post time (DEPART) is 15:25.  As they run down the field and all during the video beforehand, the current time is displayed.  You know when the race is going off and there is no excuse to miss the race.:

This coordinated with other race meets going on of different breeds.  Will it ever be like this here?  We can dream can't we?

Timoko won the Grand Criterium at Cagnes-Sur-Mer today but for North American interests who were losing faith with Maven, there was some validation that she belongs racing against this type of horse as she closed like a bullet to finish second, despite starting from the outside on the first tier (post 8).

After leaving sharply with Pascia'lest to put some sting to him, Timoko yielded and then retook the lead just past the quarter to then take the field the rest of the way to victory in 1:54.7.   As long as Timoko stays sharp and sound, North American fans can look forward to seeing the 8 year old son on Imoko in the Yonkers International Trot.  As for Maven, she remains in Europe with her next start in the Lotteria in Italy.

The weather has apparently taken its toll on Harrah's Philadelphia as opening day has been moved out a week to March 27.

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Time to Modify the PMU Agreement?

Once again, we in North America miss the best in foreign harness racing due to the inability to simulcast the Grand Citérium de Vitesse from Cagnes-Sur-Mer in France Sunday (morning our time).  Forget about Maven racing, though she does bring a backing of North American pride as the upstart taking on Europe's best.  There are some great trotters in the race; Timoko, who looks to make a North American swing in October in the International Trot and the Breeders Crown; Roxanne Griff (one of my European faves); defending champion Univers de Pan.

The agreement Yonkers has with PMU is to simulcast American races to France;  it's one way.  It would have been fortuitous if the agreement allowed for the simulcasting of key races back to the states.  If this was the case and Yonkers started their simulcasting at 10:30,  the first race could have been the simulcast of the race from Southern France followed by the races from Yonkers.

As it is, Yonkers is scheduled for a 1:10PM post time so clearly PMU is not in need for the Yonkers signal early in the day.  Just the same, the agreement should be reworked not only to allow major races to be sent to North America and to maximize participation come up with a way to fit Yonker's signal in with their regular programs. 

By now you may have seen the new logo for the Meadowlands Pace, prominent with the named sponsor Crawford Farms.   While sponsorship is always good in promoting races, it is a necessity for non-slot tracks as purse accounts are not as deep as at racinos.  Without such sponsorships, purses for these races will be significantly lower.  The current sponsorship agreement runs through 2017.  Give credit to Crawford Farms as their target audience is quite limited as when compared to a national brand.  This sponsorship is more a vote in the faith of the Meadowlands rather than what Crawford Farms will get in return from it.  Kudos to Crawford for stepping up.  Now if others would step up to sponsor other races, it would be a real vote of support for the Meadowlands.

While the $1,000,000 Pepsi North America Cup drew 72 nominations for this year's edition, the $800,000 Crawford Farms Meadowlands Pace drew 53 nominations for the 2015 edition, 5 less than the 2014 edition.  While the cost to nominate to the Pace has been made more affordable, owners are being more selective to where they nominate horses. 

Rosecroft Raceway opens up their 2015 season tonight with a card of 10 races.  First post is 6:40pm with the final race scheduled for 9:13pm.  I know some people like the longer times between races, but give me a racing program which contests 10 races over approximately 2 1/2 hours and I'm in heaven.

Horsemen in Alberta are happy as a contract agreement with Century Downs Racetrack and Casino has been reached and racing will begin at the Balzac, Alberata facility this year, giving harness horsemen a track in the Calgary market.  When you consider out of the 113 race days in Alberta to be contested this year, the 90 days at Century Downs will be a welcome change to the nomadic horsemen of Alberta.  Of course, there is one potential fly in the ointment.  The track is a 1 1/8 mile oval with a chute meaning thoroughbred and quarter horse racing could debut in 2016, possibly competing with standardbred interests for race days in 2016.  Alas, that is next year.  The important thing for Alberta horsemen is to maximize the opportunities this season will bring them.

Proponents of slot machines in the Meadowlands have some work to see this come to fruition.  Forget about who will operate the slots, right now if the referendum to expand casino gaming outside of Atlantic City was held, there is a good chance it would get crushed.  In a recent poll by FDU, 36% of the voters approve the idea of expanding gaming while 57% oppose it.  Now granted, the campaigning hasn't begun and my suspicion is the pro-casino side will be able to outspend their opponents, but just the same one would hope proponents would be starting with a smaller margin to overcome.

Players of exotic wagers may be getting relief from the IRS.  A proposed rule change would allow horseplayers to consider the aggregate amount of their wagers in a particular pool
 when determining if winnings are subject to reporting on the dreaded W2-G form.  Currently, you can have a ticket with 12 combinations costing $1 each and you would trip the 300-1 threshold based on the one winning combination.  If the rule change goes through, in this simple example the entire $12 wagered would be used to see if you trip the threshold.  A public comment period is currently underway.  Meanwhile, the casino industry is not thrilled as they would be subjected to similar reporting and withholding requirements meaning the gambler and slot machine would be put out of action until the reporting could be completed.  Welcome to our world, deal with it.

In the thoroughbred world, while it's early, the Chutzpah of the Year award goes to jockey Roman Chapa who is appealing his 5 year suspension and $25,000 $100,000 fine for using a buzzer in a race.  The fine was originally only $25,000 but the director of the Texas Racing Commission raised the fine due to extenuating circumstance.  I realize Chapa has the right to appeal his suspension, but when they have the alleged offense on film, it seems kind of absurd to appeal unless he is hoping to tire the TRC into a plea agreement to reduce the offense.  Of course, the question to be asked is what trainer would use Chapa if he was able to ride once again.  

Friday, March 6, 2015

When You're Hot, You're Hot; Openess to the Public

First he wins the World Driving Championship, what does Dexter Dunn do for an encore?  Winning the $250,000 Auckland Cup at Alexandra Park with Christen Me in an exciting race is pretty darn good.

Christen Me, a son of the super sire Christian Cullen, won the Cup in a New Zealand record of 3:13.8 (1:55.5 MR) for the 2,700 meters, defeating world record holder mare Adore Me by a nose.  It took a four wide move heading into the  home stretch for Christen Me to get into contention and it was a wild battle in the stretch   It truly was a classic finish.

If you want accessibility to racing information, the Australasians are great at it.  For example, looking at HRNZ's website at the Auckland Cup, you can see the history of the race (it goes back to 1890) with video replay of recent editions, the results, and the stewards report where you can see after the race Adore Me is suffering from mild soreness, and for the entire card if any horses had their classes changed.  In addition, their online form shows recent lines for horses including video replays.  All for free.  Besides the fact this information is free, the fact you can find out a horse is hurting or not is welcome; the information being open, not kept top secret.

Jody Jamieson and Tim Tetrick will certainly leave the Land of Oz with great memories and the Aussies will think warmly of them.  Australian driver Chris Alford's daughter suffers from neurofibromatosis and the drivers signed a shirt for auction.  At the auction Tetrick won the shirt for $2,000AUS and then donated it back at which time Jamieson won the auction for $2,000; meaning the shirt raised $4,000.  Not only are these great drivers, they are great ambassadors for the sport.

There was a nasty accident at Forbury Park in New Zealand last night, one that wiped out the entire outer tier.  I make a point of not posting wrecks in this blog, but if you are so inclined, you can locate it on YouTube.  If you want to read about it, has a story about it.  Amazingly, all the drivers and horses came out of the race in good shape.

No doubt some will say this is what happens when there are too many horses in a race, to which I say poppycock.  Take a race with your normal size field at any North American track which develops to tiers and have one upfront fall and see what happens; it will be pretty close to what happened at Forbury.  I have seen races where in the stretch a horse falls and if they are close enough, horses are going to go down.  Harness racing is dangerous.  It's the nature of the sport.