For photos from the Meadowlands contact

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

When Arbitrary is Not So Arbitrary

Yesterday I had a spirited discussion complaining how arbitrary it was for a racetrack owner in deciding which trainers were excluded from racing while other trainers 'perceived' cheats were allowed to race there, including a trainer the track operator uses.

I must admit, not living or working on the backstretch I decided to see how arbitrary these exclusions were so I went on Pathways to check these trainers out.  When making my decision on trainers, I went exclusively by the USTA record of fines and suspensions.  Not that some of the racetrack banter is incorrect, but in this country legal decisions are made on the official record, not rumors on the street.  Why?  There is no due process on rumors, due process is only on formal charges.

  • We have trainer A who is related to former trainer B who has a checkered record.  Stable is still racing at the track.
  • We have trainer C who is excluded from racing at the track.
  • Finally, there is trainer D who runs a major stable.  Trainer still races at the track.

Well, checking out trainer B, I was appalled by their record.  Truthfully, I wouldn't let this person take care of a hermit crab if it was up to me.  This person claims this former trainer is working for trainer A.  Trainer A basically has a clean record.  Any violations are minor.

Is Trainer B involved with the stable?  I can't say.  What I can say is the farm they train at is under control of their racing commission so they shouldn't be at the facility.  They could be working at a non-licensed facility  where the commission has no control, but they are far from the actively racing stock.  Even if Trainer B was more involved in the workings of Trainer A's stable, the fact is Trainer A is responsible should anything go wrong so odds are they are not taking advantage of the 'folk' medicating Trainer B was allegedly involved in.  Based on the 'record', why shouldn't this trainer be allowed to race at the track?

Trainer C has a relatively recent violation regarding a medication which another track says would result in the trainer being banned from that track.  If a cheaper track won't let this person race at their track, why should the this track allow them to race there?  This one is an easy call.

Trainer D runs a major stable.  A check of his record shows an incident involving a medication commonly abused by people.  It turns out a stable worker apparently had a drug issue involving this medication and that day managed to get their hands on the drug and then handled the horse later in the day.  So yes, the trainer was held responsible for the positive, the purse was forfeited, and the horse placed last, but the judges determined the positive was the result of contamination instead of an intentional drugging.  Forgetting about rumor and innuendo, why shouldn't the trainer be allowed ot race there?

Of course, we are talking about the Meadowlands and Jeff Gural.  It needs to be noted in addition of going with the official record, Gural employs a private investigator.  Since the track is often the judge and jury, and actions are taken in secret, it allows for a whole lot of speculation as to why someone is excluded and someone else isn't.  Complicating things further are the rumors regarding trainers which seemingly are ignored.  Well, you don't get convicted in a court of law based on rumors, you get convicted based on fact which is why rumors tend to be ignored (though Gural's private investigator may investigate those issues) and decisions are made based on fact.  Does this mean a trainer allowed to race at the Meadowlands can't later find themselves in  trouble?  Of course not.  This is not a perfect process.  The problem appears to be with the cynics who are not used to a person who will take advantage of the ability to exclude so freely.

Of course the person this was discussed with was not satisfied; you can't satisfy everyone.  They have their convictions and I respect their position and views.   The point is, if you go by the official record, and filter out the noise, it turns out these arbitrary decisions are not so arbitrary after all.  

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Pena Postscript?; Food For Thought

With Pena being handed a huge fine and suspension, many in racing are getting satisfaction in Lou Pena's banishment, while a few still question the fairness of his penalty, of which I am one of.  It should also be noted that the case now heads back to the court and the press release issued by the NYGC has several inaccuracies, obviously for the benefit of the general public (grandstanding?)

Let's review the facts.  First of all, none of Pena's horses tested positive for any substances .  Where he got nailed by the NYGC (then the NYSRWB) was by reviewing the logs of his New Jersey veterinarian which showed the medications were given after the mandated withdrawal time in New York.

The problem is in every other state, withdrawal times are advisory, if you follow their guidelines, you should be okay, but ignore the guidelines, you don't get penalized unless the horse comes back positive.  As a result, what Pena had done would not have gotten him in trouble, even in New Jersey which gave New York the veterinary records.  The only reason why Pena got in trouble was he violated withdrawal times which were codified in the NYSRWB regulations.

The fact New York codified their withdrawal times gave the regulators what they needed to nail Pena, so based on what has been made public, the regulators got their man and there lies my main objection to what happened to Pena.  It is not a question of whether or not he violated the rules (that appears to have been settled), it is the fact the regulators were gunning for Pena; something even the regulators haven't publicly denied doing.  Why hasn't any other standardbred trainers been given the 'Pena' treatment?

But as a postscript, assuming there is no court overturning the decision, here are some questions to be considered:  Did Pena's horses have an unfair advantage even though they tested 'clean'?  How did Pena's horses test clean if we are to believe the vet's records?  Are there other trainers out there doing exactly what Pena has been found to have been doing, just in states where withdrawal times are only advisory?  Is racing's reliance on testing so flawed it should be tossed and replaced with the passport principle, having a horse's blood chemistry put in a virtual passport and when a significant discrepancy is found, it be considered a positive even without concern of what medication was used; in effect banning the use of any medications for the benefit of improving a horse's performance?

Some food for thought.

Monday, April 27, 2015

What Does it Take to Get a Life Time Ban?

If I was.the New York Gaming commission, I would wait until the final court appeal to be heard.  That being said, today the NYGC fined embattled trainer Lou Pena $343,000 and handed him a 3 year suspension.  It is certain now that the penalty has been handed down, Pena will have his lawyers attempt to continue the battle in state court to get the decision thrown out; the major part of their argument being the lack of fairness by the state in taking 13+ months to hand down a decision.

If this decision is sustained, Pena would be out quite a bit of money but the three year suspension troubles me.  If Mr. Pena gets a 3 year suspension for over 1,000 violations of medication rules, what does it take to get a life time ban?  Did the NYGC craft their decision hoping the relative leniency of the ruling will get Pena to drop any future legal action?  If so, that is one of the problems of regulators these days, seeking to avoid litigation by handing down watered down penalties

No, Pena will never get another license to race in New York for if Pena applied and was rejected, that rejection would be used by some other racing commissions as a reason for refusing licensing.  While the penalty he has received would hurt him if he applies elsewhere, it may still be possible some state(s) with liberal policies on licensing would allow him to resume his career.  But it is safe to assume his career is over in any major harness racing jurisdiction.

Monday Morning Quick Takes

Harness racing returned to the Calgary area this past weekend and despite the 'flocks' of people attending the races, the handle leaves a lot to be desired..  Opening night showed a handle of $88,496 with purses amounting to $38,900 while on the second day, the handle was $60,007 with purses distributed of $57,900.   Yes, purses are supplemented with casino proceeds but still management must be disappointed.  Horsemen should be as well.

For a track which brought harness racing back to the area after the last meet in 2006 at Stampede Park, one would have thought the pent-up demand would have had gambler's pockets open-wide and the money flowing through the wagering machines.  Maybe it was the cold, nasty weather which discouraged customers from sticking around the entire card when there was a warm casino inside waiting to greet them.  Maybe it has something to do with the ongoing construction, but work needs to be done to get more interest in the racing product and more importantly, get people wagering more on the product.

On the other hand, our favorite puzzlement, Thunder Ridge Raceway is racing its final meet.  I confess I don''t watch the track's handle every day since they started racing but it appears the final meet has gotten people to wager.  Saturday's four race card yielded a handle of $186 for a four race card (purses of $6,400).  Clearly transferring the license to Keenland for their quarter horse track being built in Corbin, Kentucky makes sense.  Thunder Ridge is a track totally rejected by the local community.  The shame is there are so few racing opportunities for Kentucky overnight horses, its departure will hurt.

On the plus side, harness racing seems to have a new start in the name of Hannah Miller, daughter of trainer Erv Miller.  She is a force to tend with against her male counterparts.  With a weekend double of winning at the Meadowlands (against French competition) and Freehold, Miller has seven wins in twenty-two starts this year along with five second place finishes, resulting in a UDR of .469.  It would be interesting to see what would happen if she decided to turn professional, but she has elected to remain an amateur.  For more information on Hannah, check out her website.

The first two legs of the HANA Harness 2015 Grand Circuit Handicapping Challenge are in the books and at this early stage, the Pine State analyst,  Sally Hinckley is in the top of the standings with 48.20 points, with Gordon Waterstone and Earl Paulson within five points of the leader.  This coming weekend, there are five races over two days at three tracks being contested.  The contest is worth following and may be found at .

Have a great Monday.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Tackling The Meadows Maturity

Friday evening kicks off Grand Circuit Finals season (the Matchmaker and Levy has been preliminaries up to now) with the inaugural running of the $51,100 Meadows Maturity at the Meadows for open trotting mares.  This race also features the seasonal debut for Shake It Cerry and Classic Martine which in itself presents some interesting angles to consider.

Here is my analysis of the race.

Friday, April 24, 2015 - 9th Meadows; $51,100 The Meadows Maturity - Open Mare Trot

1 - Sweetie Hearts (Hall, 20-1) - Last two have been nothing to talk about.  Will pass.

2 - Cowgirl Hall (Goodell, 8-1) - Burke trainee ran in the stretch in the last.  Contender up to then.  Possibility for a share.

3 - Anaffairtoremember (Wilder, 10-1) - Failed trying to wire field in last.  Not out of it if she returns to prior running style,  Include in supers.

4 - Daylon Miracle (Merriman, 5-1) -  Just missed in last from outside post.  Best of the locals.

5 - Rockin With Dewey (Ledford, 12-1) - Interesting shipper from WEG.  Improving and finished second to Daylon Magician in last.  Worth a look at long odds..

6 - Handover Belle (Kakaley, 12-1) - Burke trainee seems to be aiming too high.  Pass.

7 - Shake It Cerry (Palone, 7-5) - Champion entering race off a qualifier.  Clearly the best but likely little too cheap in price for me to play.

8 - Whata Donato (Snyder, 20-1) - Draws poorly.  That should eliminate mare.

9 - Classic Martine (Rawlings, 4-1) - Well prepped with three qualifiers.  Likely goes for lead then taking pocket trip.  Disaster if hung.

Selections:  9-5-7-4

The 2015 HANA Harness Grand Circuit Handicapping Challenge kicks off today and while most handicappers think Shake It Cerry will win at first asking, some handicappers made different selections.  You may see what they picked here.  Feel free to check out the rest of the site as well.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

The Forty Minute Experiment and More

It was announced by the Meadowlands that their Kentucky Derby day card will feature a 40 minute Pick-4 kicking off with the first race at 5:30.  A better description for the wager would be the 40 Minute Experiment.  Many people complain it takes too long for the races to go off.  Well, if you are one of those people, it is up to you to support the effort by not only playing the Pick-4, but by wagering into other pools.  Failure to support these races may very well kill off 'fast' races for quite a while.

Of course, to get four races off in forty minutes would be quite an effort so to aid their quest, the Meadowlands will be bringing in two races from its sister track Tioga Downs for the assist.  The Pick-4 sequence will alternate between the two tracks with the first and third legs (races 1 and 2) coming from the Meadowlands while the second and fourth legs (races 2 and 3) will be simulcast from Tioga with the Meadowlands having their own pools separate from Tioga Downs, giving fans a chance to shop for odds.

Besides seeing if there truly is a demand for speeding up the races, one has to wonder if management will be gauging the interest in Tioga Downs' races.  With the Meadowlands having a hard time filling their races, it is conceivable at some point the Meadowlands may attempt to import races from Tioga and/or Vernon Downs to fill their shortened cards.  This could be a win/win proposition.  The Meadowlands solves their horse shortage while the horsemen at Tioga Downs earns a percentage for their purse accounts from the wagering which takes place on their races at the Meadowlands.

One may ask, if racing is trying to improve the on-track experience, how would simulcasting races on the card impact the 'boredom' many fans complain of?  If the Meadowlands is able to speed up things so four races take place in 40 minutes, the time between a race becoming official and the next race going off on-track at the Meadowlands would be no longer than it currently is.  For bettors at home, it would be action every ten minutes making the signal more popular.

If successful on Derby day, the 40 minute Pick-4 may be the birth of something different for harness racing.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Monday Morning Briefs

A brief observation over some recent rulings.

At one track, a trainer who was caught with syringes, needles, and injectables had their license restored after being summarily suspended and serving their penalty.    I have no idea what substance(s) the trainer had in their possession, but having casual knowledge of the trainer and knowing some of the people who associate with the person, I doubt they were performance enhancers.

That being said, rules are rules and the trainer took responsibility, being fined $1,000 and given a 60 day suspension.  Upon getting their license back, the track immediately made them unwelcome for the balance of this year's meet but will allow them to reapply for racing privileges for the next meet.

Good for the track in excluding the trainer.  Tracks need to send a message to rule breakers they need to answer to track management once they serve their state-mandated penalties.

A driver who caused physical injury to a horse due to whipping got fined $400; this at a track where purses tend to average around $3,000.  When you consider a win in a $3,000 race earns the driver $75, $400 is a hunk of change.  Personally, I think the fine should be higher since it caused injury to the horse, but at least it is relatively harsh when you consider the amounts drivers are fined at slot tracks.  A case in point:  A driver in Delaware got fined $200 for the 'Brutal Use of a Whip'.  

In another issue, Ohio horsemen are complaining about the new whipping rules, some claiming the commission is trying to take the whips out of their hands.  Well, if the public had their way, drivers wouldn't have whips.  I suggest horsemen try to get used to the rules once they become finalized instead of complaining about them.

Rumor has it there is some talk about harness racing finding a new outpost to race at.  Whether or not it comes to fruition remains to be seen.  Unfortunately, considering the number of live days this state currently has for live racing, I tend to doubt there will be an overly long meet should harness racing be introduced.  That said, if someone is offering to open a new market to harness racing,  it would be foolish not to take advantage of it.  After all, how many times does harness racing get an opportunity to introduce itself to a new market?  You have to take advantage of what comes your way.

Have a great Monday. 

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Spreading the News

RUS Ontario has gone out to the people to spread the word of RUS, making appearances at the All Equine Show at the Western Fair Entertainment Complex and the Can-Am Equine Show held at Markham Fair Grounds, Markham, Ontario to a receptive group of attendees.  This is just one tool in their holster to gain more fans to the sport and RUS in particular.

Unfortunately, they have received more support from the industry than in the States so they are well ahead of their American counterparts when it comes to getting the news out.  Hopefully, with the rules being adopted by the USTA, more support will come and allow a more robust promotion of the sport at the tracks and other locales.

It turns out the standardbred industry is not the only industry suffering from a severe drop in foal crops.  HRU on Friday reported how the thoroughbred and quarter horse industries are suffering the same fate.  It is clear the common denominator is slots.  All three are awarding the bulk of their slot revenue to aged horses making those owners still in the game leaning towards ready made horses instead of yearlings who are a riskier investment and quite honestly, a cash drain for a year and a half before they have a chance of earning back their cost only to face relatively small purses.  Unless all three breeds reallocate the slot windfall (for while it last), they may accomplish what animal rights groups have been unable to do thus far; become extinct.

Illegal drugs are the scourge of racing and while authorities and cheaters play a game of catch-me-if-you-can, there are those approved drugs which are supposedly safe for horses when used as directed and don't provide an advantage over other horses as long as they are withdrawn as per industry mandated withdrawal times.  But what about supplements?  I have a problem with horsemen from all breeds endorsing supplements as well as industry magazines on both sides of the border selling advertising to these companies.  Some of these companies have a plethora of supplements for sale to solve every conceivable problem.  These supplements, like human supplements are not regulated to the degree medicines are and may result in an inadvertent positive.  One has to wonder if using all these supplements, seeking an advantage over their competitors, is any worse than medicating horses.  Ah, for the days of racing on hay and water. 

Thursday, April 16, 2015


The most famous Standardbred chestnut in the world today is the 12-year-old trotter Commander Crowe. “Le Grand Blond,” as he is known, retired after winning the Breeders Crown open in December, giving him 61 wins and more than $5 million in earnings. The fact that a retired horse is our most recognizable chestnut is noteworthy.

Red heads have never been as plentiful among the trotting set in North America as they have in the pacing fraternity. Yankee Paco, a son of Balanced Image, became the second chestnut to win the Hambletonian 15 years ago. He was the first Canadian sired trotter to win that classic. The first chestnut to win the race was the Hoot Mon trotter Blaze Hanover, 43 years earlier. Neither one was a successful stallion, so they didn’t serve as prolific missionaries of the blond or red mane.

In recent years the pickings have been pretty slim when it comes to successful trotting chestnuts in North America. Keystone Activator, a nine-year-old son of SJs Caviar and grandson of the outstanding Speedy Crown mare Armbro Blush, had some success at two and three. And the Striking Sahbra colt, Count Strike, was good in the OSS a couple of years ago, but there isn’t much there.

Ensign Hanover, a son of Billy Direct who won the inaugural Little Brown Jug, was a chestnut. He slugged his way to victory over four heats for Curly Smart. The next golden hued winner was Hall of Famer Shadow Wave, who won in straight heats 12 years later, in 1958, for Joe O’Brien. Shadow Wave was one of the more prolific chestnut stallions that have plied their trade in North America, most of whom have failed to impress in this regard.

The son of Adios sired such standouts as Super Wave, Springfield, Invincible Shadow, Dangerous Wave, Real Hilarious and Saucy Wave. He was also an effective broodmare sire: Falcon Almahurst is out of his daughter Ingenue, and Oil Burner, the sire of No Nukes and grandsire of Western Hanover, is out of Dottie Shadow. Unfortunately none of his sons were of any help when it came to extending Adios.

Romeo Hanover and Romulus Hanover, two grandsons of Adios, were the cream of the crop when it came to pacing chestnuts. Romeo won 13 of 16 starts at two and 36 of 44 overall. He took his division at two, three and four. George Sholty said he was so smooth that he could pace the turns as fast as the straightaways. And Romulus was a star for Bill Haughton. He was so fast that Del Miller predicted he would pace in 1:52 a few years before Steady Star did it. Both were failures as sires.

Strike Out was a handsome chestnut from the second crop of Bret Hanover. He took his division at two and three and compiled one of the more complete resumes in this group. Fertility issues put a serious crimp in his ability to extend Bret and Adios, however. Hot Hitter, a winner of the Jug, Messenger and Adios, was his richest son, but proved to be a failure as a sire. He also produced Meadowlands Pace winner Hilarion, League Leader, Ring Of Light, Fulla Strikes and Striking Image.

Bret’s claim to fame was as a broodmare sire, but Strike Out had limited success in this area. Pace winner David’s Pass, Handsome Sum, Radiant Ruler and JAs Outlaw are a few of his better broodmare credits.

Seahawk Hanover, who won his division at three, taking the Messenger and Prix D’Ete, is another chestnut by Bret Hanover who failed as a stallion.

Blaze Pick, a chestnut son of Gene Abbe, won his division in Canada at two, three and five for Keith Waples. And, from very limited opportunities as a stallion, he sired JR Amy, the dam of Jate Lobell, and JR Daisy, the dam of The Panderosa.

The Panderosa, courtesy of his mama, is the source of many of today’s chestnut pacers. His son Ponder gave us Go Daddy Go, who was successful in the OSS last year, showing a win in the Battle of Waterloo and a second place finish in the Governor’s Cup. He’s rated fifth in this year’s NA Cup Spring Book. Ponder lover Adam Bowden bought into the colt a month ago. Dapper Dude, another mahogany stained chestnut by Ponder, has earned three-quarters of a million dollars. The Panderosa is also the sire of the black stallion Shadow Play.

And chestnut Blaze Pick, his daughter JR Amy and grandson Jate Lobell all show up in the maternal pedigree of Totally Rusty, the speedy filly who recently won the $100,000 Delaware Sire Stakes final for three-year-old pacing fillies. She circled the sloppy Dover Downs track in an eye-catching 1:51.3 in the process of dropping a 13-length win on the opposition. Thus far she’s the only starter by her daddy, Rusty’s For Real, but there are sure to be more on the way.

Brooks Hanover, a brother to Bullet, as well as Easy Adios, Lang Hanover and Adios Bomber were other chestnuts by Adios. The latter’s son Taurus Bomber equaled Albatross’s world record for a race mile at Springfield in 1976.

Jimmy Creed, the sire of Widower Creed, was a chestnut from the 1940s. Jerry Way and Bachelor Hanover, a stablemate of the great Belle Acton, appeared in the 50s. The latter was an exception to the lack of production as a sire that has plagued chestnuts; he was a very successful stallion in New Zealand.

On The Road Again, from the first crop of Happy Motoring, set a single season earning’s record at three, when he won the Pace for Buddy Gilmour from the 12 post, the Cane, Provincial Cup and Confederation Cup, among others. He topped his division at three and four, was Horse of the Year in Canada at three and four and is a member of the Canadian Hall of Fame. OTRA is the best chestnut pacer of the modern era. He sired the very productive fillies Delinquent Account and Sara Loren Rd, and was a very successful stallion in the New York Sire Stakes program. On the other hand, he left no memorable sons and failed to extend himself.

Thanks to a pair of bays, The Panderosa and his son Ponder, the chestnuts are in better shape than the grays, who lost any significant output from Laag almost two decades ago. With The Panderosa well placed in Ohio and Ponder being supported to the max in Pennsylvania, perhaps we can look forward to a golden resurgence.

Joe FitzGerald


Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Time to Break Out the Woolies?

Pitty the Meadowlands.  This weekend, the Spring Preview series is being conducted.  These races, purses for $15,000 have finals going for $30,000 (est.) or $35,000(est). as long as 18 horses drop in for each division.  So how did these races fill?

3yo trotting fillies (nw1) - Ten horses (no final, same conditions next week)
3yo trotting fillies (nw2) - Did not fill
3yo trotting C&G (nw1) - Eight horses (no final, same condition next week)
3yo trotting C&G (nw2) - Did not fill
3yo pacing fillies (nw1) - Eleven horses (no final, same conditions next week)
3yo pacing fillies (nw2) - Did not fill
3yo pacing C&G (nw1) -  Eighteen horses ($29,000 final next week)
3yo pacing C&G (nw2) -  Eight horses (no final, same condition next week)

Only one division had enough horses entered to merit a final?  Three divisions didn't even have enough horses to fill?  Four divisions had enough horses to get on the card but not to have finals, but will just race for $15,000 purses the following week.  This with purses for the eliminations higher than the purses at Pocono and Harrah's.  It makes you wonder what's happening.

One of course must consider the fact with certain trainers excluded, the horses trained by them are not welcome by default so the Meadowlands is beginning with a smaller pool of available horses but you would think other trainers would have horses which would fill these cards as well until you realize Pocono Downs is currently conducting the Bobby Weiss Late Closing Series for non-winners of three which means there is competition for the same set of horses. (albeit some of those horses in the Weiss are aiming high).

When you consider the work Meadowlands Race Secretary Peter Koch goes through to fill two race cards a week, the above example shows the Meadowlands simply can't compete against the Pennsylvania tracks for horses.  It would appear the Meadowlands has two choices; modify their conditions to attract the upper classes at Freehold which would hurt Freehold or throw in the towel and race the majority of their dates in the winter where the supply of horses will runneth over.

Not feeling the love: On the other side of the pond, the UK is involved in a national campaign for control of Parliament.  While I don't anyone needs to worry about the Green Party winning control of the legislative body, it is interesting to note the Party would consider the banning of horse and greyhound racing after the completion of its planned review of racing, factory welfare, and animal welfare issues.  No, there is no need to worry about a  ban on horse racing anytime soon, but when a political party takes an issue such as this up, it is time to stand up and take notice.


Saturday, April 11, 2015

Virginia Horsemen Moving On

Where will Virginia horsemen be racing this year now that negotiations between the Virginia Equine Alliance and Colonial Downs have broken off?
Oak Ridge Estate Racetrack (photo credit VA Film Office)
Shenadoah County Fairgrounds
  (photo credit Shenadoah  County
Fairgrounds Association
As of now, there is an agreement in principal to hold a four day meeting at Oak Ridge Estate Racetrack in Nelson County (where a flat meet over a turf course may be
ld in 2016) and  are in discussions for a four day meet at the Shenadoah County Fair in Woodstock with the potential of additional dates there.  Of course, this is preliminary but the main point is the VHHA is moving ahead without Colonial Downs.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

War Against the Small-time Bettor?

For those of you who also wager on the thoroughbreds, the Horseplayers Association of North America (HANA) has released its 7th annual rankings of the top 62 tracks in North America.  There is a new number one, Kentucky Downs, a short boutique turf-meet in Kentucky which has unseated Keenland from the top spot.

Perusing the latest edition of Horseplayer Monthly, which contains these standings, for the harness racing-related columns (yes, it does give some coverage to our standardbreds), I came across a few advertisements from a couple of tracks promoting their low-takeout rate exotic wagers; wagers which usually contain the words 'Pick' or 'Jackpot' in their names.  There were also articles talking about various takeout rates for wagers at different tracks and with the exception of one certain track in Rexdale, Ontairo which decided to go for the jugular with their Pick-5 wager, the rates were low, all lower than your traditional straight and exotic wagers.  After I was done perusing, I came to one conclusion,

Pity the Small-Time Bettor

Yes, pity the small-time bettor, the one who gets little or no-respect by racetracks for it seems racetracks on the whole are waging war against them.  Now, don't get me wrong, I am not talking just about the $2 casual bettor, I am talking about gamblers who know they don't have the financial wherewithal to play those Pick-X and Pentafecta wagers because they can't afford to play the number of combinations necessary to have a reasonable chance of being able to wager those bets with any hope of success.  Pity them for while those who can play these new(er) exotics are playing wagers with guarantees and takeout rates reduced from traditional wagers, the small-time player either gets no or a smaller rebate than others and is forced into playing into pools with takeout rates which remain unchanged for years.  For them, it can be argued the takeout rate is a regressive tax; a tax with rates so punitive that the small-time players are going to be chewed up and quickly spit out much faster than those who are able to partake of the reduced rate wagers.

With the exception of Tioga Downs which reduced their takeouts to the state minimums, tracks continue to charge rates which are higher than these new exotics.  If tracks have shown reducing takeout rates increase the amount of money being wagered, wouldn't it make sense to reduce rates on the older wagers to get people to increase their wagering?  Yes, lowering the takeout may cut into rebates, but then it would benefit all players instead the players with a bigger wagering budget..

I can understand the hesitance of traditional tracks, those operating without the benefit of alternative gaming proceeds, to reduce takeout rates, but being at some tracks the slot subsidy is 95% of what they race for, what harm could it be to cut the rate on straight wagers, even if just for an experimental period to see what the impact would be?

Is there room in horse racing for the small time bettor?.  I sure hope so,    

Product Placement and Coordination

Rosecroft Raceway has announced wagering has increased by 88% over the first eight days of racing this year.  On March 10, a Tuesday night, Rosecroft had its highest handle since June 6, 2008.

Now, Rosecroft is still far from major league with the handle on March 10 being $284,952, but a massive increase is still an increase.  What is Rosecroft's secret?  Product placement.

The Maryland harness track made the decision to race on Tuesdays and have managed to get on TVG's schedule's  in the evening where there is little competition, giving Rosecroft access to gamblers they normally wouldn't have.    Product placement is a huge success, but with only three tracks racing on Tuesday evening, the amount of racing product available is closer to the demand.

Depending on how the USTA sets up their racing network, it could be beneficial to those tracks being shown.  The biggest problem standardbred racing has is visibility.  Being shown on a harness racing network (ideally coupled with wagering) will give the track visibility and horse players will support it.  No, they may not bet $1,000 a race, but $100 is possible,.  Once handle increases, gamblers will increase their wagering as pools grow,

Tracks need to get together and coordinate a schedule to maximize their visibility.  It is simple;  increased visibility equals more wagering, getting lost in the crowd means stagnation or decreased wagering.  If this new racing network is established properly, with cooperation and coordination, among the tracks, everyone wins.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

The Winning Pick-3 Ticket which is a Loser for Harness Racing

The third race Pick-3 at Mohegan Sun Pocono Downs paid a whopping $2.40 as three 1-9 shots crossed the finish line first three consecutive times in a row in the Bobby Weiss late-closing series   Shame on Pocono Down for scheduling these three divisions of the Weiss consecutively.  If they cared about their horse racing gamblers, they never would have run them in the order they did.  If you were a bettor playing this Pick-3 and cashed a ticket, shame on you; why are you investing your hard earned money to earn $2,40 on a three horse exotic.

As a side note, could you see one of these winners telling their friends they hit the Pick-3 which paid $2.40?   And we wonder why we can't attract newcomers to the sport or reacquaint ourselves with lapsed horse players?

If you like or don't like Jeff Gural, you will find this interview by Dave Briggs in Thoroughbred Racing Commentary interesting.  What is amazing is when he discusses trainers being banned, he for the most part never hears from owners asking why their trainer is not allowed to race at the Meadowlands.  I suspect if they don't ask, it's because they know.  I guess the trainer could be telling the owners why they have been excluded and if that is the case, why are they sticking with the trainer?  It's all about the dollar which makes a good case for showing owners the door as well.

I can see a time, depending on the outcome of the casino selection process in  the Southern Tier and if a casino comes to the Meadowlands under Gural's control, when Gural may put the harness racing world upside down by 'employing' trainers at his track and require any owner who wishes to race at one of his tracks to chose a trainer from one of his approved trainers; stakes races included (something which has been employed in the Orient).

There should be no excuse for Meadowlands Racing Secretary to have to struggle to put two racing cards on next week.  The Meadowlands debuts 'The Spring Preview', races for three year olds who are non-winners of 1 or 2 parimutuel starts.  Yes, there is a $500 entry fee, but where does this class race for $15,000 the first week with the top money earners returning for estimated $30,000 or $35,000 finals (as long as 18 horses enter each class).  A great opportunity for green horses to learn as they earn.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

RUS Rules and Obstacles

For those who are interested in racing under saddle, the USTA has posted the rulebook insert which highlights the rules changes approved at the recent USTA meeting; the majority concerning RUS but it includes other approved changes.  These rules become effective on May 1, 2015.

Of course, most states have their own set of rules so the USTA approving these changes are merely a guideline to help state commissions to also adopt these rule changes.  In the case of RUS, it will require the support of horsemen and track operators and in some instances may require legislative changes, depending how their parimutuel laws were adopted.  In some states, there may be a need to overcome objections by local HBPA who may fear RUS is too similar to thoroughbred racing.

One place we shouldn't expect to see RUS anytime soon, at least until it turns out to be successful elsewhere, is Pennsylvania.  At  the annual meeting a representative from the Quaker state made it clear that they have no intention to take the steps necessary to get RUS approved.  Of course, if successful, there is a good chance they will change their tune.

For sure, there are other areas where individuals are reluctant to support RUS.  Their reasons may be varied, but make no mistake, some reject the idea of RUS because it is different and harness racing fears making changes,  They don't see harness racing, from the gamblers' perspective is a stale product.  RUS not only is a change in the product, but a way to gain additional betting interests without resorting to a second tier.   They are like deer in a headlight.  Frozen to inaction while the world goes by.  In the meanwhile harness racing continues to lose ground.

The Yearling Crisis - My Take

This past weekend, Harness Racing Update dedicated an issue to the declining yearling numbers facing the standardbred industry and how it will impact the supply of racehorses which will mean (most) tracks would have to close.  Here is my take on the issue in how we can help improve things:

Too many tracks racing at the same time (Too many race dates) - You see it now with Harrah's, the Meadowlands, Pocono Downs, and Yonkers currently racing. How many horses are needed to keep these four tracks racing at the same time?  You can look at other geographical areas and notice similar problems.  In the above example, the Meadowlands is the loser due to the lack of slots but one day that may change.  Irregardless, there is no reason with the vast majority of wagering coming from off-track and the return of wagering at the track seemingly out of reach in the foreseeable future to have four tracks in the same area (and that excludes Freehold and Monticello) racing against each other; there is not much demand for the product we are producing.  By making changes to the schedules, the existing racing stock will be conserved.

There needs to be a coordination of racing schedules,  Quite honestly, the Meadowlands should be racing most of their dates in the winter with a three or four week Red Mile-type meet in the summer to run their major stakes races.  Harrah's should race in the spring and early summer.  Pocono should race the later part of spring into fall.  Yonkers, will unlikely change their schedule but there is no reason for any track to race year round; at a minimum, it should give up the months of December and January.  With four comparable tracks racing in the same area, there should be no more than two tracks racing at the same time.

Encourage the breeding of 'mediocre' horses - The commercial breeders will tell you to deliberatly breed mediocre horses and reward them with special races is rewarding mediocrity; that may be..  Of course the goal is to improve the breed, but let's face it, the breeders' job is to supply racehorses for the industry; without racing there would be few, if any, breeders remaining and breeding standardbreds.  With the majority of races for overnight horses, you don't need Grand Circuit types to fill those races you need horses of ability, even if they may never be able to race against open company; they just need to be able to race against like-bred horses.  We'll get back to this in a moment.

The commercial breeders will continue to breed Grand Circuit caliber horses, while smaller breeders can focus on these second tier stallions.  Instead of selling for $25,000+, these tier two yearlings would likely sell for $10,000 or less.  This would allow individuals to buy yearlings on their own without partners and encourage new owners.  Let's face it, when was the last time you saw a trainer buy a yearling on their own?  Certainly there are exceptions, but for the most part  they buy yearlings and immediately look for partners; usually the same cast of characters.   Some trainers may breed  homebreds, but few trainers will venture to a yearling sale for thir own benefit.  With cheaper yearlings, trainers and others can afford to buy the whole yearling.

 At ages two and three, there can be races restricted to those horses bred from stallions who had a stud fee less than $2,000 (or other arbitrary amount).  These horses can race in these restricted races which will race for 25% less (in this example) than unrestricted races, or if the owners get lucky, they could race in non-restricted races.  With the horses having a smaller up front cost, owners can make do with smaller purses.

Which brings us to the purses.  I have been against huge stake races for two year olds with the money going instead to stake races for three year old and up, but the fact is unlike in countries such as France which values racing older horses, North Americans want to 'see the money' in the two year old seasons.  Purses should be increased for all overnight races which two year olds race in.  Others have brought up their belief we should adopt a the maiden special weight structure the runners use.  Using the Meadowlands as an example, the non-winners of 1 parimutuel race currently goes for $9,000.  What if nw1 was raised to $15,000 with the previously discussed second-tier horses racing for  $11,250 and instead of going only to non-winners of 4 races, classes were written up to non-winners of 8 for two year olds with purses appropriately increased?  Where possible, sires stakes programs should have at least two tiers of racing so the second tier bred horses had a place to race.  With potential yearling owners at the first and second tier levels seeing a reasonable chance to actually make money, or at least cover their costs, you may find former yearling buyers stepping back in and potentially attract new owners now that an economic case may be made for buying yearlings..

Yes, a sires stakes program for second-tier bred horses is rewarding mediocrity, but you can stay true to your values and find you have no business, or you can compromise a bit and have an industry to service.

Others have mentioned having two year old claiming races.  I oppose this because we currently see at racino tracks how claimers are in and out of barns as people are in effect 'renting' horses.  I hate to see two year olds subjected to this.

Of course, there is one problem.  Breeders can agree to the two-tiers of yearlings, but unless horsemen racing agree to to alter the purse distributions, this plan is DOA.  Either horsemen must be convinced it is in their long term interest to increase pure allocations for two year old overnight races, or when horsemen contracts are about to lapse, track operators may need to play hardball even if it means there is an interruption to the racing season.

Slow Them Up (Somehow):  As one trainer told me, "If we keep having our babies going in :55, there won't be any claimers in the future".  In our quest to improve the breed, we have made the standardbred a virtual pacing/trotting thoroughbred, going speeds they were never intended to go, especially as two year olds..

Import Horses:  And finally, while we still see foreign horses from Australia and New Zealand, the number of horses imported has shrunk considerably from prior years.  Why are we not importing standardbreds from France?  In the old days, horsemen from Quebec used to import horses from there.  Seeing how the French trotters campaign against our stars over there, I don't know why we fail to import them into the rest of North America.  In fact, why not from other countries in Europe and increase the importation from Autralasia?

We wonb't import our way out of the shortage of race horses, but it will help somewhat.  Besides, if some of these horses turn out to be successful, they may join the North American breeding ranks, allowing for some new blood to be introduced.

Monday, April 6, 2015

Is Greed (and Racino Money) Killing the Sport?

I was talking to a trainer about the horse shortage and inability of many trainers to buy yearlings for themselves.  This person agrees the price of yearlings are too high for a small trainer such as themselves to own their own yearling(s).  The conversation indirectly turned to racinos and the slot money horsemen get.  

While they benefit from the slot money themselves, this person is of the opinion we are pushing our two year olds too fast too soon to get their share of the pot of gold.  To paraphrase what they said, if we keep asking our babies to go in ;55, there won't be any claiming horses down the road; in other words, as a result of pushing the babies to go so fast, many of these babies will be washed up and gone from racing before they make it to four.  In other words, a good number of our shrinking foal numbers will be gone before they are available for claiming or overnight racing..

In addition, while they (horsemen and owners) admittedly benefit from slot funds with regards to purses, it is clear this person feels the little guy is getting squeezed out as a result of this slot windfall..  As the person said:

"The money got better and the greed started to show....the pigs got fat.....what can I say, they think about the $ and have forgot about the animals and the other people in the business that don't have an education in doing anything else and have a few [horses] to survive with"

Inflamatory words for sure but what do you think? Are we forgetting the horses' welfare when we play 'rent a horse' in the claiming ranks or when the next cobalt comes along? Is harness racing becoming the game of the 'monied' and slowly but surely, the little guy who does not have the monied patron(s) in their stables are getting squeezed out? Or is this good old fashioned capitalism and it's the survival of the fittest?  

Either way, it is not good in the long run for racing.

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Could the Gural Track Empire be Facing Extinction?

Doubling Down:  Once again, Jeff Gural has signaled failure of obtaining a casino license will result in the likely demise of Vernon Downs.  What is different this time is Gural sounds the alarm Tioga Downs would likely face closure as well.  You may ask "What Happened?"  Wasn't it just in December when the casino license went to a location in the Finger Lakes that Gural indicated Vernon Downs was in jeopardy but he would keep Tioga open as the people have been supportive of the facility?

You would absolutely be right.  However, by getting the state to reopen bidding in the Southern Tier region, should the gaming license be awarded to someone else, it would be in Tioga's backyard.  Right now, Gural is the only one known to be filing an application, but there are rumors the Mayor of Binghamton is trying to get casino operators interested.

Doubling down may wipe out both tracks.  Should the Meadowlands not be awarded a casino license within the next three years, it is possible all the Gural tracks may end up being relegated to history.

RUS, One Solution to the Dwindling Owner Issue:  Meanwhile, people are wondering what can be done to attract new owners to the industry.  Here is one suggestion; supporting RUS.  That's right, Racing Under Saddle attracts new owners, as is evidenced by this "In the Sulky" broadcast with Tara Hynes.  If you wish to get right to the point where this topic is raised, you may click here.  However, if you wish to watch the whole segment where Justin Horowitz interviews Hynes on several subjects, including the social network effort which managed to save seven horses from the kill pen, watch the video below.  From watching this segment, you can see Hynes is something; something good.

Hynes is not the only person who got involved in harness racing as a result of RUS.  It also gets more women  involved in the sport and provides a different take on standardbred racing which will interest  existing players as well as attract thoroughbred players.

Lou Pena Back in the News:  I thought all was settled with the Lou Pena situation but I was wrong.  As reported late yesterday, the New York State Gaming Commission was victorious in the appeals court in getting the charges against Pena reinstated.  The NYSGC will review the hearing officer's recommendations and likely expel Pena from the sport and hit him with heavy fines.  Then it will be back to court.

I don't agree with the court's decision.  How does a hearing report due in 30 days which gets finally handed in 13 months later not be considered a violation of Pena's right to due process even if the law which specifies a 30 day deadline on hearing officer's decisions is considered 'advisory'.  Sixty days, Ninety days, maybe considering the size of the case, but thirteen months?  Even if advisory, this is far too long.  With regard to the court's finding the delay was not done with prejudice?  The whole case has been a witch hunt; you can't tell me the board was not trying to leave Pena out to dry.  That being said, the court has people who studied law and case law so while I disagree with it, one must respect the decision.

I'm not saying Pena is innocent, but he's a victim of the NYSGC and the NJRC which aided the New York regulator..  This could all be part of a movie called "Get Pena".

Friday, April 3, 2015

Pena Facing Suspension in New York Once Again

A New York State appeals court has ruled for the New York State Gaming Commission and reversed a lower court ruling which tossed out the charges levied against Lou Pena, claiming the board didn't issue an opinion in the 'mandated' 30 day response period as dictated by New York State Law.  

The appeals court, has decided even though the legislation authorizing the NYSGC specifies hearing decisions are to be made within 30 days, they are not mandated even though it is specified in the law; apparently just a guideline.  Hence the court ruled without evidence of prejudicial behavior by the NYSGC the charges could be restored.  With the court not finding prejudicial actions by the NYSGC,  the court ordered the prior court's ruling overturned and the charges restored.

If there is one bright spot for Pena, the NYSGC has decided not to revoke Pena's license until final adjudication by the board has been completed.  No doubt Pena will appeal the hearing officer's decision.  Unless Pena is successful in his appeal(s) remaining both in the NYSGC and likely the court system, he faces license revocation and massive fines.  In addition to losing his NY State license, most states he is currently licensed in will honor the New York action, in effect ending his racing career. 

Thursday, April 2, 2015

If You Don't Speak Up, You are Part of the Problem

I was over at some other board and there was an individual complaining about how the judges seem to ignore certain infractions regarding 'favorite' trainers while they seem to come down on the less known trainers at the blink of an eye.

The track involved for purposes of this discussion doesn't matter, nor will I comment on the validity of the individual's observation.  My only question to the individual making these claims is was did they complain to the state's racing commission?

In some states, the racing commission assigns judges, others submit a list of officials for approval by the commission, but regardless, each judge serves at the pleasure of the racing commission.  You may be asking "What's the sense of complaining"?  Well, for one thing you may be the straw which breaks the camel's back (being the letter) which forces the racing commission to get rid of the judge at the end of the meet.  If not, perhaps it will be the letter which makes the Executive Director decide it is time to review the judge's body of work to see if the rules are being followed correctly and if not, it may result in the judge being 're-educated' or terminated at the appropriate time.

Does complaining work?  Well first of all, as a customer, you have a stake in the judges decision so you are entitled to voice your complaint.  Secondly, you may be the letter which makes it impossible for the commission to ignore the complaints.  One thing for sure, is you need to be  respectful.  A polite letter questioning the call in a certain race will go a lot further than the accusatory letter which will more likely get you labeled a 'nut job';  Don't get a response after a reasonable amount of time, send them another letter or call; don't let them ignore you.

Regardless of how you handle this, make sure you send your issues with a judge if you have one  for if you don't speak up, you are part of the problem.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the pond, you may have heard of English Amateur Steeplechase Rider Lewis Ferguson's amazing acrobatic routine when his horse, favorite Merrion Square stumbled approaching the final fence. unseating the 18 year old rider who went into the fence full force to begin his routine.  Fortunately, for Ferguson, the biggest injury he suffered was his wounded pride.

While there is no word as to how the punters treated him afterwords, rumor has it that the England gymnastics team is considering inviting him to tryout for the next Olympics.

All kidding aside, we are glad to hear Ferguson escaped injury.  To be perfect honest, I wonder what possesses someone to become an amateur steeplechase rider.  All the power to him.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

April Fools

Jeff Gural informed HRU that he’s seen the light and will embrace a new policy of inclusion at all his tracks. Gural said he’s been suffering from pains of conscience over his policy of excluding numerous trainers and drivers from The Meadowlands, Tioga Downs and Vernon Downs. Lou Pena, Rene Allard, Josh Green and others have been invited to join Jeff in a heartfelt rendition of Kumbaya in The Meadowlands winners circle.

Pacingguy railed against RUS in today’s blog entry. He said, among other things, that it’s tedious, unwatchable and impossible to bet on. Other than that, he’s a big fan.

Pull The Pocket, who has been crying out for takeout relief for bettors for the longest time, has apparently gone over to the other side. He has taken a position with Churchill Downs Communications, and will serve as the point man in their new campaign to convince fans that racing cannot survive and thrive without higher takeout rates. Pocket has abandoned the cold and snowy North for steamy Boca Raton.

The Hambletonian Society has decided to move their preeminent product, the Hambletonian, to Yonkers Raceway when their current contract with The Meadowlands expires. They’ve decided to follow the money. When asked how they will address the inevitable bellyaching from horsemen over the tight turns, spokesperson Moira Fanning said, “They better suck it up and deal with it.”

Joe Faraldo announced that the SBOANY will donate $100,000 to the USTA social media outreach effort. And, beyond that, Faraldo is urging his members to tithe 2% of their earnings to the fund for televising stakes races promoted by Jeff Gural and Jack Darling.

Hanover Shoe Farms will embrace a marketing technique that has worked well for retailers: the two for one sale. Buy one Hanover yearling at November’s sale in Harrisburg and you’ll receive a second yearling of their choosing, free of charge.

Adam Bowden of Diamond Creek Farm has urged the Hambletonian Society and the WEG tracks to reconsider their about face on the Gural Rule, limiting the rights of any top tier colt that is retired for breeding purposes after that one’s sophomore season. Bowden said he’s tickled pink to have Father Patrick standing in New Jersey this year so as to facilitate his training regimen with Jimmy Takter.

The Foiled Again fan club has announced that they’ll be refocusing their energy on a younger hero. They released a statement thanking the eleven-year-old for his exemplary racing career, but they can’t deal with all the losing.

After Maven registered her first win in 2015 over a field of mares at Solvalla Saturday, owner Herb Liverman declared the $750,000 he spent to acquire Glidemaster’s only notable offspring to be the best money he ever spent.

Tristan Sjoberg has announced that his $240,000 Art Major colt, White Bliss, will stand at Blue Chip Farms in 2016. He’ll be sending trotting mares to the white stallion but pacing mares will also be accepted. Colorful surprises are expected for fans of both gaits.

Ron Pierce announced that during the several week recovery period after this week’s neck and back surgery he expects to make an effort to break the Guinness record for tweets sent in a one month period. The loquacious driver has 25 tweets to his credit in the ten months since he opened his account. He expects to markedly improve on that.

The horsemen at Plainridge Raceway penned an open letter to Ron Burke, Rene Allard and several other high volume trainers urging them to ship contingents to the revitalized Massachusetts track for the upcoming meet. Improving the quality of racing and sharing the newfound slots dollars are both causes close to their hearts.

Joe FitzGerald

RUS Ontario Moving Ahead; Mid-Week Doings

So what is cooking in Ontario with regards to RUS?  Here is the latest news.

Logo used with permission of RUS Ontario.  All rights reserved.
2015 has a racing calendar expanded to 15 race dates.  Some of the highlights are May 15 when RUS Ontario opens their season at Western Fair Ditrict as well as being on the undercard on Confederation Cup Day (May 17).  RUS racing will also be on the card for Industry Day and the Battle of Waterloo at Grand River on August 3.

RUS Ontario will be busy off the track as well with promotions to bring racing under saddle to the public. An appearance at The Horse Festival at Georgian Downs on July 18 looks to be a bigger event than last year, giving them the opportunity for more exposure.  Over the May 24 weekend, RUS Ontario will be at Clinton Raceway for Owner Appreciation Day.

As active as RUS Ontario is, they realize there is a need for a higher level of publicity and as such they will be submitting their official business plan to the Ontario Horse Racing Industry Association so they can work together to expand RUS's marketing abilities.

At the Meadowlands, news comes that Jimmy Marohn Jr. will remain at the North Jersey track for the rest of the meet after getting off to a hot start instead of returning to Tioga Downs where he has recently been king of the hill.  While he will race at the Meadowlands on Fridays and Saturdays, he will still return to Nichols, New York for their Sunday afternoon cards.  This is a big move for Marohn; some would say a gamble, but you have to strike while the anvil is hot.

The Meadowlands is not the only track in New Jersey with horse shortages.  Freehold Raceway on Thursday has only nine races on the docket; down from the usual slate of races.  Better fewer races than cobbling together a bunch of noncompetitive races.

Good news for Maryland horsemen.  Cloverleaf SOA has signed an agreement with Ocean Down0s guaranteeing racing through 2019.  Coupled with the agreement with Rosecroft, this means for the firt time in a long while horsemen know there will be racing in Maryland four the next four years.

\The Ohio Racing Commission has approved new rules regarding whipping which in part bans hitting a tiring horse or one out of contention.  The rule also will require a driver to give a horse a chance to respond to a prior whipping before using the whip again. Penalties will range from placement, disqualification, fines and suspension.  Having to go through the governmental process, this rule may take up to four months to go into effect.