For photos from the Meadowlands contact

Sunday, May 31, 2015

Magic Tonight Wins the Elitlopp

Magic Tonight won the second elimination and the final of the Elitlopp at Solvalla , Sweeden today, winning the final in 1:52.4.  You can read about the race elsewhere; here is the race in video.

The first heat was won by Royal Fighter who went an amazing trip and was driven by Jennifer Tillman.

The second heat was won by the eventual race winner Magic Tonight.

Finally, here is the final of the Elitlopp.

Saturday, May 30, 2015

A Call to Action

If you play the horses, this impacts you.  Please consider helping.  After all, this is your battle.

Friday, May 29, 2015

The Last Weekend In May

There are three splits of the Super Bowl tonight at the Meadows. There are six each by Donato Hanover and Explosive Matter entered. Donato’s son Uncle Lasse, a full brother to Shake It Cerry, was probably his best freshman since Possess The Will, who was from Donato’s first crop. Cerry, Check Me Out and several other fillies have held up their end of things, but Donato needs Uncle Lasse and The Bank, who also starts in the Super Bowl, to come through.

Explosive Matter needs a star, male or female. Pinkman, who came on strong in the fall, winning the Breeders Crown and Valley Victory, and capturing the division, will face Father Patrick’s little brother, Whom Shall I Fear, in the Super Bowl. He has the rail tonight and is coming off an easy win in the PASS in his seasonal debut at Harrah’s. Explosive Matter’s overall numbers are fine, but Pinkman needs to validate him with a superior sophomore campaign.

Dewey’s fastest son, Master Of Law, tries Jimmy Marohn on for size against NW15 at The Meadowlands tonight. He broke last time out in the Cutler; finished eighth in a TVG open prior to that; and lost four opens at The Meadowlands before that. Even Jimmy Takter is overmatched when it comes to putting this guy on the straight and narrow.

Confederation Cup winner All Bets Off may be a four-year-old, but his elders will have a tough time beating him from the rail in tonight’s Molson Pace. He’s moved effortlessly into the half-mile track specialist slot previously occupied by Foiled in the Burke Barn. (Foiled qualifies tomorrow) All Bets Off has won the Messenger, Rooney, Milstein and Confederation Cup on small tracks. Chris Christoforou pulled a win in the Molson out of his rear end last year, but it will be tough to make it three straight with State Treasurer from the second tier.

There are ten sons of Sportswriter entered in tonight’s three $70,000 OSS Gold splits at Western Fair. However, there are no sons of Shadow Play entered. Sportswriter produced a huge first crop; there were 78 more of them from the crop racing tonight than there were foals by Shadow Play—154 to 76. Last year constituted something of a sophomore slump for the latter, but one would expect to see him represented in these races.

Go Daddy Go, who debuts in a Gold split tonight, won his Metro and Breeders Crown eliminations, but he lost six of his last seven start in 2014. Some are touting him as a serious Cup contender. He’ll need to turn things around for John Campbell.

Speedball Bandolito, who scorched the Rosecroft surface in 1:49.4, winning the open by seven last time out is back at Pocono to take on NW $27,500. GNap will drive—a match made in Heaven. He finished fourth in the Van Rose at Pocono three weeks ago. Bandolito is the 5/2 morning line favorite.

What happens in the Indiana Sire Stakes is rarely of much interest to the outside world, but Wiggle It Jiggleit vs Freaky Feet Pete in tomorrow’s $75,000 C&G final will draw lots of eyeballs. The Mr Wiggles gelding has never tasted defeat in his eight starts, while Pete enters the race with a ten of eleven record.

The trotting filly Churita takes a nine of eleven record into her ISS final. The daughter of Airzoom Lindy (Cantab Hall) is always the odds-on choice. Airzoom Lindy is a full brother to Lindy’s Tru Grit. There were only twenty foals in Churita’s crop, and that number was reduced to single digits for subsequent crops.

Luck Be Withyou, the son of Western Ideal who won the Breeders Crown at two, earned $300,000 last year, but didn’t live up to expectations. Last week he wired a WO25 field at Harrah’s for GNap in 1:50. Tomorrow night he tries the same class at Yonkers from the outside post for Eric Carlson.

Jug winner Michaels Power has four wins and four seconds in his last ten starts at Yonkers. He’s banked almost $180,000 for the year. Michaels Power is less than $32,000 from passing Mystician and becoming the richest son of Camluck.

Hurrikane Ali, the Rocknroll colt who is dominating the New Jersey Sire Stakes, was a $63,000 Lexington purchase. He’s a half to near millionaire Driven To Win. Yannick Gingras starts him from the four in tomorrow’s $100,000 final.

Joe FitzGerald

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Somebeachsomewhere Vs Muscle Hill

Somebeachsomewhere is showing definite signs of rebounding from an off year in 2014. Captaintreacherous did not live up to expectations; his top mare, Somwherovrarainbow, won the Matchmaker in the spring, but had no stakes wins after that. Sunshine Beach was a major disappointment. Limelight Beach did win the Jug, but he was up and down and far from the leader in his class.

Instead of getting it done with stars, the Mach Three stallion seems to be winning the earnings battle with a hundred little cuts. His three-year-olds are slightly ahead of perennial kingpins Bettor’s Delight and Rocknroll on the money list, and that’s with 40% fewer starters. And on the all-age list, he’s fourth behind Bettor’s Delight, Rocknroll and his daddy, with half as many starters as Bettor’s Delight, 57% as many as Rocknroll and 59% as many as his sire. The first crop by SBSW is now five years-olds. These numbers are very impressive.

The Pennsylvania Sire Stakes represents Beach’s bread and butter. Brian Brown’s Rise Up Now has won six in a row. After today’s defeat of matinee idol Wakizashi Hanover, he sits second to Wiggle It Jiggleit in 2015 class earnings—by only $2,600. Jimmy Takter’s Blood Brother won two of his last three. Parklane Eagle won in 1:52.1 in the Stallion Series yesterday. And Tony Alagna’s trading Up, who is out of a full sister to Levy winner Domethatagain, won a Stallion Series split in 1:52.2, in hand, at Harrah’s.

If you glance at the North America Cup Spring Book, you’ll see Artspeak, Reverend Hanover, In The Arsenal, Wiggle It Jiggleit, Go Daddy Go, Traceur Hanover etc., none of whom are by Somebeachsomewhere. So, the stars are still slow to come, but perhaps some of these colts and fillies laying in the weeds, loaded with potential, will make the leap. In the meantime, he’s filling up the bank quite nicely.

Muscle Hill, the media darling on the trotting side (sorry, Cantab), is a year younger than SBSW; his oldest are four year-olds this year. His all-age numbers can’t be compared to his pacing counterpart for that reason, and there are more opportunities for sophomore pacers in the first five months of the season than there are for trotters, so the three year-old numbers aren’t necessarily comparable, however, Muscle Hill is currently tenth on the sophomore list, and eighteenth on the all-age list.

While Somebeachsomewhere’s get feast on the $16 million available from the Pennsylvania Sire Stakes, Muscle Hill, who now resides in that state, won’t escape the clutches of the New Jersey program, which weighs in at a paltry $2.7 million or so, for two more years.

Taking all of that into consideration, it seems that Muscle Hill is more a star driven stallion than Beach is. As good as he was, Captaintreacherous was on the receiving end of as much criticism as praise. He never broke through and enjoyed the unadulterated adoration reserved for the Belle of the 2015 Ball, Mission Brief. And Trixton, who followed a soft schedule to the Hambletonian, became something of a cult hero along the way, and sold right out as a stallion in godforsaken New Jersey.  EL Titan, who beat Patrick in the Erskine for Ron Pierce and Riina Rekila, is something of a hero north of the border.

Muscle Network, who set a world record of 1:53.2 winning the ISS at two, and went on to take the Valley Victory, was very highly regarded at three, but hasn’t fulfilled that promise. And Muscle Diamond, who won his ISS split two ticks slower and was second to Pinkman in last year’s Breeders Crown, is a favorite of many this year. At any given moment a handful of Muscle Hill’s seem to be bound for glory. But again, when it comes to diggin’ for dollars in the daily grind, Beach has him beat—for now, anyway.

Joe FitzGerald

Monday, May 25, 2015

Race Recap

The Thriller in Chester, didn't live up to its billing as Father Patrick easily defeated Bee A Magician in the $150,000 Maxie Lee Memorial at Harrah's Philadelphia; a two length record-tying victory in 1;52.1  Bee A Magician finished second with Lindy's Tru Grit rounding out the top three in third.

Not that Father Patrick didn't have to work for his victory.  A good part of the :27.1 first quarter, Father Patrick raced three-wide,  A lot of horse would have been spitting the bit at the end of the mile, but not Father Patrick.  Once he made it to the top, it became a ride around the block.

In the Betsy Ross, Radar Contact defeated last year's winner Anndrovette by going wire-to-wire in 1:51.1 holding off Anndrovette by a neck at the wire as Anndrovette was able to come up the passing lane to secure the second spot.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Harrah's Philadelphia Stakes Preview

Harrah's Philadelphia hosts a trio of Invitationals today which have national implications, though early in the season as some of these horses will have their first exposure against top-level competition.

In the $150,000 Jerry Taylor Invitational C(race 10) for pacers, Modern Legend gets saddled with the outside post, keeping an otherwise favorite at 6-1 in the morning line.  After missing by a nose in a TVG Series event at the Meadowlands last week he can't be discounted.  The favorite, Levy winner Domethatagain (2-1) must be respected despite his loss in a Pocono Open from post position eight.  Mach It So (5-2) finished second in an Open at Harrah's after racing at Yonkers; a possible threat on his second start over the oval.  Great Vintage (10-1) won his initial start of the season at the Meadowlands in 1:49.1.  Lastly, there is the Rodney Dangerfield of the field, Clear Vision (5-1) who has yet to visit the winner's circle this year, but the winner of $549,554 last year can't be ignored.

Selections: 3-8-4-7
Possible value play: 8
Longshot hunting: 7

In the $150,000 Betsy Ross Invitational (race 11) for pacing mares, Radar Contact has been the queen of the Meadowlands, finishing no worst than second in her last seven starts at the Meadowlands, properly priced at 9-2.  Anndrovette (7-1) had no chance in her last start at Pocono, draws better and finds a spot where she may be able to find the winner's circle.  Sayitall BB draws the rail after a horrible trip in her last star which may have been her best performance of the year; still at 3-1 she doesn't call out to me.  Table Talk at 20-1 showed little in her last start at Vernon, but the week before finished a neck behind 9-5 Yagonnakissmeornot who is the logical choice here.

Selections: 3-6-1
Possible value play: 3
Longshot hunting: 5

The most anticipated of the trio of races, the $150,000 Maxie Lee Memorial for trotters brings us the highly promoted match up between Bee A Magician and Father Patrick but the race is more than a two horse race.  Bee A Magician (2-1) has spanked the boys in her last two starts; may do it one more time although she faces Father Patrick (7-2) who kicks off his season today after putting in some fine qualifying efforts.  Market Share's (8-1) return in 2015 so far has been a nightmare; expect turnaround but it may not be this week.  Melady's Monet (12-1), a winner of a half dozen looks like she may hit the superfecta ticket.  Must respect Classic Martine (5-2) a winner of two out of three; but at these odds, I will pass on her.

Selections: 5-3-6-7
Possible value play: 5
Longshot hunting: 6

Friday, May 22, 2015

Now the Fun Begins

While we have had a few Grand Circuit events this year; I like to consider them the appetizer.  This Memorial Day weekend, the unofficial start of summer, starts the main course as stakes season kicks into high gear as the top horses start bumping heads against each other with regularity.

Saturday brings us a pair of eliminations for the $300,000 Art Rooney Stakes for three year old  pacers at Yonkers Racewaay.  While there are two divisions, the divisions are split into a six and seven horse field, not bad for a stakes race at the Old Hilltop. where five horse fields are not uncommon in their eliminations.

Sunday brings us a mini-Super Sunday as a trio of $150,000 Invitationals are contested at Harrah's Philadelphia.  While the exotics in Pennsylvania carry high rakes, Win players will have some high class fields to dissect.  In the Jerry Taylor Invitational, Modern Legend draws the outside post while Doctor Butch, who has finally lost his 'New York' horse label, and Sapphire City look to give Legend a run for the money.  In the Betsy Ross, you have Anndrovette and Radar Contact going up against Yagonnakissmeornot.

Finally, in the Maxie Lee Memorial the cup overflows with talent.  While the race is being billed as a match between Bee A Magician and Father Patrick, the race also has Classic Martine, Market Share and Melady's Monet providing challenge to the top two-billed.  With Bee A Magician and Father Patrick being top-billed, one of these other horses may provide value.

Monday brings us to Tioga Downs where we will start to see how the revamped Graduate Series is received as a trotting division has been added to the familiar pacing series.  Since entries are yet to be drawn we don't know who will be competing this week, but if the nominees are any indication these races should draw some nice horses.

If you are looking to head out to the track but not near these named ovals, remember sires stakes action is already in high action so depending where you are located, you may be able to see your state's best horses competing.

Whether at home or at the track, enjoy your holiday weekend.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Black Beauty

Anna Sewell’s 1877 novel Black Beauty is one of the most popular books of all time. The modern day film adaptations were also wildly successful. Aside from energizing the animal welfare movement in nineteenth century England, the story inspired worldwide love for a black stallion. In the Standardbred world, where folks often split hairs when it comes to distinguishing colors, black is an outlier. Blacks don’t represent a large percentage of trotters and pacers, but have played a key role in the development of the breed, nonetheless.

The most important sire of the modern era is Meadow Skipper. He was brown, but his daddy, Hall of Famer Dale Frost, was black. He won the Geers and Meadow Lands Farm Stake at two and earned more than $200,000. But this black stallion, who was handled by Delvin Miller and Jimmy Arthur, made himself an immortal by siring Meadow Skipper. Other productive sons were Fulla Napoleon, Mountain Skipper and Goodnuff.

Tar Heel, a jet black stallion, came along three years earlier than Dale Frost. Lawrence Sheppard paid a record $125,000 for the Little Brown Jug winner as a three year-old. And unlike Dale Frost, who passed after breaking his leg at age 17, and left behind a small number of offspring, Tar Heel was a siring machine: Hanover got 27 crops out of him. Many of his get were homely as sin and sour as a lemon, but they knew how to win races.

His sons did not sire on; he had no Skipper. However, his legacy on the track is deep. Horse of the Year at two, three and four, Laverne Hanover, won the Fox, Little Brown Jug and Tattersalls Pace. He won 61 of 98 starts. The full brothers, Nansemond and Isle Of Wight, beat the mighty Albatross a combined eight times. And the former won the Jug. Keystone Pat, Otaro Hanover, Tar Boy and Sunnie Tar are a few of the others. And the coal black giant, Tarquinius, who took over the FFA division for a stretch in 1964, was another standout.

The Tar Heels changed over time; there’s a striking difference between Tarquinius, who was out of a Corporal Lee mare, and Laverne and Nansemond, both of whom were out of Adios mares. Bob Marks points out that the son of Billy Direct got a steady diet of trotting mares prior to the success of Steady Beau and Sly Yankee, while the Adios mares that followed gave him smaller, better gaited individuals.

Tar Heel’s daughters were responsible for the Triple Crown winner, Ralph Hanover, as well as Praised Dignity, In The Pocket, Colt Fortysix and Forrest Skipper. Tar Heel mares produced the top performer for most of the sires they were bred to. Adios’s top son, Bret Hanover; Dancer Hanover’s best, Romeo Hanover; and Columbia George’s best, Le Baron Rouge, are three examples.

Widower Creed was a top notch black FFA pacer for Howard Beissinger in the late 1950s and early 1960s. The son of Jimmy Creed did not distinguish himself as a sire, but he did produce Miss Creedabelle, the dam of Bret’s nemesis, Adios Vic.

Continentalvictory, the brilliant daughter of Valley Victory, who passed three months ago at age 22, was another black star. The last filly to win the Hambletonian, the Hall of Famer, earned $1.6 million, and took the Yonkers Trot and World Trotting Derby.

Scotland, the progenitor of Muscle Hill, via Rodney, Speedy Scot, Speedy Crown etc., was a black horse. As was his son Hoot Mon and that one’s daughter Hoot Song, the filly who beat the boys in the 1957 Yonkers Trot and finished second behind Hickory Smoke in the Hambletonian. Caleb, a black son of Hoot Mon, was second in the 1961 Hambletonian. Hoot Mon, who is one of three black horses to win the Hambletonian—Park Avenue Joe and Continentalvictory being the others—was the sire of Hambletonian winners AC’s Viking and Blaze Hanover, as well as Capetown, the sire of Overcall, and Thankful, the dam of Nevele Pride.

Earl Laird, Jimmy Cruise’s FFA project, who was chronically lame and didn’t race until age six, was black. The brave trotter won the Maple Leaf Classic, United Nations Trot and the American Classic. Flak Bait, a high-end son of Speedy Somolli, who took the 1985 Kentucky Futurity, was black. And Natural Herbie, who surprised everyone in last year’s International Trot Preview, and also won the Vincennes and Chip Noble, is also black.

The 1953 Horse of the Year, world record holder Hi Los Forbes, was black. As is Rock n Roll Heaven’s sophomore filly, Band Of Angels.

There are only three mainstream black sires in North America: hitting the reset button in Ontario, after an unsuccessful run in New York as a four year-old, Archangel sold out right away up North; Shadow Play was very successful in the Ontario Sire Stakes with his first crop, but ran up against Sportswriter last year; and Winning Mister stood in PA in 2013, made a four race comeback in the fall of that year, and is now apparently permanently retired to stud. The first two will certainly spread that black around. Our world gets more bay and brown every day. We need more ebony, more onyx, and more black beauty.

Joe FitzGerald

This and That

Racing at DuQuoin and Springfield will be interesting this year.  While the Illinois Racing Board has approved their racing dates along with pari-mutuel wagering, it appears as of now the State Department of Agriculture has zero funding available for purses.  Race at your own risk as it once took almost a year for the winner of stakes races to receive their purse checks.

The good news is Maywood Park has decided to continue racing for the time being (at least until the sale of the facility at a bankruptcy auction) as they had withdrawn application to vacate the rest of their days for 2015.  The plan was for Balmoral Park to take over the then vacant Friday nights while dropping Sunday evening racing.

I am not thrilled with TVG (oops, 4NJBets) right now.  I wanted to play the Confederation Cup card, including Ontario's second RUS race of the year at Flamboro Downs and of course, they failed to aacept wagering on Flamboro.  Why is Flamboro Downs along with a bunch of other Canadian harness tracks missing from the NJ slate when every obscure thoroughbred and quarter horse track in North America such as Assiniboia Downs, the Downs at Albuquerque, and Will Rogers Downs are offered for wagering?  True any track which wishes to be simulcast in NJ must have an agreement approved by the NJRC but I suspect it has more to do with the NJSEA outsourcing management of the wagering system to an entity which operates Monmouth Park; people not exactly looking to promote standardbred racing.  If nationally TVG offers a signal, it should be offered in the Garden State.  If the thoroughbred people are not willing to approve harness signals as they do with the runners, then  NJ should get out of the ADW game and open up the state to any licenesed ADW.

It seems a shame all the effort racing secretary Peter Koch goes thru putting race cards together netted this week 8.75 (Friday) and 8.69 (Sat) starters per race at the Meadowlands.  Besides the known issues of competition for horses from slot tracks, it seems part of the problem may be the fixation on having 13 races a night. The amateurs have been invited back to fill the Friday night program to reach #13.  Instead of trying to get multiple divisions of a race in order to have 13 races with fewer horses , maybe having 10 races with full fields would be better.  After all, serious players rather see full fields.  

Belmont Prediction:  There will be no thoroughbred Triple Crown winner this year.  It seems every year of late there is a horse who lays in ambush ready to pounce on the Triple Crown contender in New York and there is no reason to think this year will be different.  The fresh horses always seems to do better than the horse who has been racing in two demanding races.  Of course, things have changed with the runners as well.  In the 'good old' days, the horses who raced in the Derby, moved on to the Preakness before heading on to the Belmont; hence each horse has been through the same tough schedule.  Now it is skip the first two races and lie in ambush or after a less than stellar finish in the Derby, it's skip the Preakness and try to regroup in New York. 

On a personal note, you may have noticed my postings have been less frequent of late.  Due to family obligations, my time has not been my own and I have been dealing with issues involving family members, myself included.  Hopefully, things will quiet down and I will be able to post more often.  In the meanwhile, we soldier on and post when possible.  In the mean while, I thank Joe F. for keeping things going by posting occasionally.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Saturation, The Story Gone Before it Gets Legs?

Sunday afternoon was a busy day for harness racing.  Racing in the afternoon (in the United States) was: Harrah's Philadelphia, Plainridge Racecourse, Saratoga Harness, Scarborough Downs, Tioga Downs, and Vernon Downs.  These tracks all began within fifty minutes of each other.   There were a few Canadian tracks also racing, but they are your minor tracks so they are unlikely to attract much American interest.

If one is looking solely at combined handle at each track, one doesn't need to ask what is wrong with this picture.   While there may be some local interest for Sunday afternoon harness racing, the majority of the local handles tend to be small.  As for ADW and OTW wagering, the vast majority of players are likely getting their fill with thoroughbred racing but even with those playing the trotters, the amount of handle is being divided between six tracks.  Can it be worth it?  Other than possibly introducing the sport to potential customers, most likely not.  

Of course, it should be noted all these tracks, save Scarborough Downs, are slot tracks.  Does it really matter how much is being wagered on their product?

But for the serious horse player, if they even are looking at the trotters, so many harness tracks running within the same window results in even more diluted pools not to wager into.  Is there any wonder why thoroughbred racing is more popular with the serious player?  If so many tracks are going to race at the same time, there needs to be a better way on deciding who races on a Sunday and at what times.

There is a great story in the making which probably will never be given the chance to help the sport.  By now, most are familiar with Hannah Miller, daughter of  Erv Miller who is killing them on the amateur circuit right now.  So far this year, her record in amateur races is 28-11-6-1 which equates to a .524 UDR.

Admittedly, it remains to be seen how she would do competing against 'A' drivers on a full time basis but it appears we will not be getting that opportunity anytime soon.  Current plans of Ms. Miller is to go to college and get her degree.  So while the potential for a great story exists, odds are it will never be given a chance to come to fruition due to Miller's decision.  You can't argue about the importance of getting an education, but one has to wonder was the decision to further her studies her own,or is the future of the sport that murky.  

In the meanwhile, let's enjoy Miller's story for as long as it lasts.

American Pharaoh is the latest horse seeking to complete the thoroughbred triple crown.  I wish him all the best of luck but I tend to doubt he will win as it always seems there is a fresh and ready horse waiting in ambush to take all comers on in the Belmont.  Regardless, the thoroughbred industry has three weeks of promotion for their sport coming up until the Belmont is contested.   The use of Lasix seems to wash these horses out after two races so they tend to throw in clunkers.  As long as Lasix is permissible and the rules allow a horse to skip the first two legs of the crown and race in the last leg, we may never see another a Triple Crown winner again.  As far as I am concerned, to start in the Belmont, a horse must have started in either the Kentucky Derby or the Preakness.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Mr. Blackwell Would be so Proud....

This week I was watching racing from a track which will remain nameless and just as I tuned in, the track handicapper for the simulcast show was giving his picks for the upcoming race.  If the way he was dressed was an indication of his success as a handicapper, I know what I would do with his selections; ignore them.

Now, I realize people have become less formal when going to the theatre or out for dinner, but while customers may have dressed down, the staff still plays the part, dressing formally.  Why do racetrack operators accept their employees dressing the same way customers dress?

As hard as it is to get new people to show up at the track, it certainly doesn't help when employees dress like they just walked in off the street.  While gambling is a big part of going to the racetrack, tracks need to make attending the races an event.  That means employees dressed in uniforms from the mutual clerk as well as the track handicapper wearing a suit or a sports jacket when on the air (Rest assured on the racino side they are dressed uniformly).  Horsemen and owners have to do their part as well.  Trainers should be dressed casually (a shirt and pants), but neat, grooms should be dressed better as well, no shorts or tee shirts talking about my mother.  Owners should be dressed like they can own race horses so when they get to the winners circle they don't make people scratch heads wondering how someone like that could own a horse.

When you are racing to a mostly empty grandstand, it is easy to let things go but if you are looking to reverse the trend of losing customers, you need to give horse players a reason to come on out.  Rest assured, dump chic is not the way to go.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                           For fans of trottingbreds, primarily a mid-western sport as well as in Bermuda, Nappanee Raceway opens on May 22, just eight days away.  Their season runs from May 22 through mid-September.  Here is a video of a race contested there.

The amazing thing is fans over the age of 13 pay $4 to get through the gate; this without wagering.  Could you imagine a harness track charging admission?  If you could make harness racing an event, you could but when you race as much as we do at most tracks, what makes a night at the races special?

Meanwhile in Mississippi, where unsanctioned races have been conducted, the MS Horse Park has opened a new harness track.  Right now, the track is to be open for training but there is hope to introduce racing over the 5/8 mile oval.  While parimutuel wagering is not legal in the state, hopefully this track will conduct sanctioned racing.  No, there is no wagering in MS, but anything which introduces new people to harness racing is a good thing.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Trotting Sires With First Crops Racing In 2015

A few years down the line we’ll all be anticipating the sons and daughters of Father Patrick and Hambletonian winner Trixton in freshman stakes races, but 2015 holds slim pickings for those anxious to see new trotting blood in action.

The premier stallion in this group is obviously the mercurial Manofmanymissions, a son of Yankee Glide who fits into that general break or win category. MOMM, as he came to be known, was a surprise winner of the Breeders Crown at two, setting a world record of 1:53.2 and paying a generous $28.80. The handsome, perfectly constructed, blueblood commanded a $215,000 price as a yearling.

Yankee Glide is the sire of Triple Crown winner Glidemaster, Passionate Glide, Ken Warkentin, Holiday Road, Solveig, D’Orsay and Guccio. MOMM’s dam Armbro Vanquish won the ISS, Buckette and Hudson Filly Trot. Her daughter Armbro Déjà vu, is the dam of Dejarmbro, who stands in Ohio and will sell his first crop this year. He can call Manofmanymissions uncle MOMM.

Manofmanymissions began his stallion career in Ontario, where he stood for $6,000 in 2012 and 2013. He was relocated to Ohio for the 2014 season and still stands there for $5,500. He bred 128 mares in Ontario in 2012, resulting in 78 registered foals. And in 2013 he got 52 fewer mares, again in Ontario, resulting in only 43 foals. MOMM was a genuine drama queen on the track and he’s apparently continuing to keep us guessing as a stallion. The Ontario program is softer on the trotting side than comparable programs in Pennsylvania and New York, so maybe things will work out for MOMM with this first crop to hit the track.

Break The Bank K, a son of Revenue, is a trotting stallion whose output many have looked forward to. The winner of 16 of 54 starts and $1.1 million had his finest moment when he beat Lucky Chucky in the 2010 Breeders Crown at Pocono Downs in a then world record 1:52.2.

He bred nine mares in Pennsylvania, the home base of owner Robert Key, in 2012, but only three registered foals resulted from those matches. He subsequently was shifted to Midland Acres in Ohio, where things got off on the right foot, but a low sperm count issue became progressively worse. That problem was apparently resolved in short order and the farm felt he was on the road to a full recovery. He covered 80 mares in 2013, resulting in 34 registered foals. So, I guess Break The Bank’s racetrack debut as a stallion will be put off for at least another year.

The SJs Caviar stallion Triumphant Caviar is also standing in Ohio. Seventeen-year-old SJs Caviar, who was the top trotter approaching the 2000 Hambletonian, but couldn’t start because he wasn’t staked, is the sire of early season earnings leader Not Afraid and Sevruga. He has no track record as a sire of sires in NA, but nine-year-old Triumphant Caviar, the winner of 16 of 68 starts and $800,000, is a full brother to Ake Svanstedt’s Haughton winner Centurion Atm and a half- brother to Buckette and Circle City winner Prayer Session.

He stands for $3,000 and has been relatively popular. Seventy mares in 2012 turned into 41 registered foals. He drew 27 additional mares in 2013, for a total of 97, but that only resulted in 45 registered foals.

If Triumphant Caviar is going to get it done in the Ohio Sire Stakes, now is the time. Big Rigs, the Andover Hall stallion out of Filly At Bigs, will have yearlings for sale this year. And so will former world record holder Dejarmbro. And Dontyouforgetit, the Yankee Glide half to Shake It Cerry, is in his second season, as is the Cantab Hall stallion My MVP, who won the Kentucky Futurity. Stormin Normand, is also in his second season. Wishing Stone is in his second season, but his first in Ohio. Uncle Peter, the priciest trotting stallion in the state, is in his first year. So, the boys are coming for all that slots money.

Our fascination with the blueblood stallion that gave every indication of being a world beater, but never made it to the racetrack, goes back a long way in this sport. A good recent example on the trotting side is Master Glide, a full brother to the great Yankee Glide filly, Passionate Glide. Brittany supported him for several years, but last year, when he was standing for $1,000 and his prospects were as dim as ever, he was sold to a group Down Under and relocated to Christchurch, New Zealand.

Passionate Glide also plays a part in the lineage of Lionhunter, her unraced son by Muscles Yankee. He stands in Ohio for $2,500 and will see his first limited crop race in 2015. There are only 21 registered foals, the result of 35 mares being bred, in that initial offering. But all it takes is one Wiggle It Jiggleit to light up a marginal stallion. The 15 sold averaged $8,300, with a top of $28,000. On the other hand, only two Mr Wiggles yearlings from Wiggle It Jiggleit’s crop sold, for an $1,800 average.

Another Ohio based trotting stallion who comes online this year is the journeyman performer Homestretch. The eleven-year-old was sired by Valley Victory when he was seventeen-years-old and almost completely infertile. He obviously had one more in him and Homestretch is it. Another Muscles Yankee? Probably not.

There are some other interesting trotting sires bringing yearlings to market for the first time this year. Chapter Seven, the world champion who is trying to extend his short-lived sire Windsong’s Legacy, bred 112 mares in 2013, resulting in 82 registered foals. He drew 102 mares last year, and had his fee cut $1,000 to $7,500 for 2015.

Muscle Mass and Dewey relocated from Ontario to New York last year, and Crazed is back in the Empire State. This in addition to Conway Hall, Muscles Yankee, Chucky and RC Royalty. Plus, Archangel bred 43 mares in New York in 2013, before returning to the track. The 30 foals resulting from that period will also join an increasingly crowded mix.

Winning Mister and Donato’s son out of Mystical Sunshine, Power Play, will also be selling yearlings this year.

Joe FitzGerald

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Wiggle It Jiggleit Stakes His Claim as a Legitimate Meadowlands Pace Contender

Wiggle It Jiggleit set a world record for a half mile track as he went through a paid workout at Harrington Raceway, racing like a 1-9 favorite while scoring a 14 1/2 length victory in a winners over event in 1:49.   This lightly raced gelding is now 8 for 8.  Number 5 on Darin Zoccali's initial Road to the Meadowlands Pace rankings will certainly be moving up after this performance.

Quite honestly, instead of just offering win wagering, wouldn't it have been better served to bar the horse from wagering and have a full menu of wagering options for the race available?

You have to admire George Teague for keeping Clyde Francis, his trainer at the Meadowlands, listed as the trainer of record for his Harrington start.  Many trainers would make sure to put the horse in their name when they return to the home base.  Teague is giving credit where credit is due.

Australian track announcer Fred Hastings visited Yonkers Raceway last night and called races 7-9.  I have previously heard his work watching some of the Australian racing and I thought he was an excellent announcer.  Well, I listened to him last night and I would call him a great announcer. Maybe it is his lilt,  but it adds a bit of class to his race call quietly adds a little excitement to the races.  If you haven't heard him call a race, check him out.  Go to the bottom of this page and select May 11, 2015 and race 7, 8, or 9.

Monday, May 11, 2015

A Look At Pacing Stallions That Have First Crops Racing In 2015

The three highest profile pacing stallions to introduce their first crops in 2015 are Roll With Joe, in New York, Big Bad John, in Ohio, and Big Jim, in Ontario. In addition to that trio, I’m Gorgeous and Woodstock will be coming out in Ohio, while Vintage Master will introduce a crop eligible to the Ontario Sire Stakes.

Roll With Joe is a son of Cam’s Card Shark and full brother to Bettor’s Delight, and half to No Pan Intended and Classic Rock NRoll. He beat out Big Bad John for division honors at three, on the strength of wins in the Pace, Messenger and Battle Of Brandywine. He earned $800,000 more than BBJ, who needed an open start at Pompano in January of his four-year-old form to get over the million dollar hump.

Blue Chip Farms cleared the decks for Joe by exporting his big brother, the great Bettor’s Delight, to Ontario. Joe stood that season for $7,000, half of what his brother commanded. He bred 137 mares, resulting in 88 registered foals. The following year his fee dropped $500 and he bred 134 mares, resulting in 82 registered foals. And last year when Roll With Joe’s fee bottomed out at $5,000, he covered 104 mares.

Fifty-five by Roll With Joe sold for a $31,813 average in the fall. The median price was $25,000—something of a lukewarm reception, the hype in the Meadowlands commercials notwithstanding. There was little high-end action and more than half brought $25,000 or less.

Bettor’s Delight’s first crop made a poor showing, resulting in a 50% reduction in the auction prices for his second crop. Bettor Sweet and Bullville Powerful were part of the third crop. It might take Joe a bit of time to get it together as well. Not that the breeders and buyers will be patient. None of last year’s NYSS first crop sires hit it big; there’s plenty of room for Joe to make a name for himself.

Big Bad John is from the last crop of Western Hanover. He’s out of an Artsplace mare; the same cross that produced double millionaires Well Said and Clear Vision, as well as Fancy Filly and Strike An Attitude. His dam, Trulyawork Of Art, is half to the Camluck stallion Northern Luck, the sire of indefatigable double millionaire Silent Swing.

BBJ stood for $4,000 his first three years in Ohio, and was stepped up 25% to $5,000 for the 2015 season. He’s entering the slots enriched sire stakes platform at the right time. And being a Little Brown Jug winner certainly burnishes his resume in the Buckeye State.

He bred 140 mares, resulting in 108 registered foals in 2012. In 2013 he bred 133 mares and got 101 registered foals. And last year he covered 90 mares, 50 fewer than his first year.

The Ohio program, despite its growth, has a way to go to catch up to New York, so John’s numbers are lighter than Joe’s. He averaged a shade over $26,000 for 64 sold, with a median price of $20,000. 60% brought $25,000 or less, but that’s not a red flag in Ohio, where all but two or three sold.

Big Bad John and We Will See are the last two high profile stallions from the premier progenitor, Western Hanover, the sire of Western Ideal, Western Terror, Won The West, Badlands Hanover, Jereme’s Jet and If I Can Dream, and grandsire of Rocknroll Hanover and American Ideal.

Big Jim, who was two-year-old champ in the same class as Roll With Joe and Big Bad John, is a grandson of Western Hanover. Like French Chef, he took his lifetime mark as a two-year-old, when he set a world record of 1:49.1. Jim was very good in the fall of his freshman campaign, winning the Breeders Crown and the Governor’s Cup, however, injuries to both ankles shut him down in August of his sophomore campaign, leaving him without an open stakes win. All told Big Jim won half his 20 starts and earned $1.5 million.

Jim stood for $5,000 in Ontario in 2012, but that figure was cut to $4,000 the following year and has remained there. He’s out of the Big Towner mare Bold Pink, and was purchased by Big Jim Carr for $35,000 at Harrisburg. The latter passed one year ago the end of April.

The end of the slots at racetracks program cast a cloud over the breeding industry in Ontario, and an unproven sire like Big Jim was sure to be on the receiving end of more than his share of pain. He bred 110 mares in 2012, resulting in 74 registered foals, but the following year he drew 45 fewer mares, and only produced 37 registered foals. Jim got 20 mares back last year, but he was still 25 short of his first year total.

Buyers were not particularly enthusiastic about Big Jim’s first crop: He averaged less than $24,000 for 40 sold. The median price for his yearlings was a weak $15,750. Only five topped $50,000 and 28 failed to exceed $25,000.

Big Jim will face stiff opposition in the OSS from Bettor’s Delight, Sportswriter, Mach Three and Shadow Play. Having his open coincide with Bettor’s Delight’s brief fling with the OSS is a piece of bad luck.

Vintage Master, another son of Western Ideal, also sees his progeny enter the racing realm in 2015. And like Big Jim, he’ll be fighting for Ontario Sire Stakes money. The brother to Great Vintage and Ideal Vintage is a double millionaire with wins in the Adios, Cane, Tattersalls Pace and Ben Franklin. He sports a 1:48.1 mark, having been a world record holder twice.

His granddam is a full sister to Silk Stockings.  He’s remained at $3,500 throughout his stallion career in Ontario. Younger brother Great Vintage is standing his first season in New Jersey for $2,000.

Jimmy Takter’s favorite horse ever bred 66 mares in 2012, resulting in 47 registered foals. The turmoil in Ontario resulted in Vintage Master getting only 48 mares in 2013, resulting in 27 registered foals. In November, 2013 it was announced that he would relocate to New Jersey for the 2014 season, but it never happened. He attracted ten more mares in 2014.

The Bettor’s Delight stallion, I’m Gorgeous, who stands in Ohio for $3,000, and the son of Rocknroll Hanover, Woodstock, who also calls Ohio home, will also see their progeny hit the tracks this year. The former got 34 registered foals from 64 breedings his first year, while Woodstock got 35 from 64. Auction figures were better for I’m Gorgeous, but predictably light for both.

Joe FitzGerald





Thoroughbreds Beat the Trotters Again in Horse Rescue; Get Your RUS Game Ready

The problem of unwanted race horses, formally the sole issue of humane groups has gone mainstream and is being discussed in racing circles.  For example, on Saturday, in Thoroughbred Racing Commentary,  Erin Shea discusses how hard it has been to explain to racing and non-racing fans what happens to thoroughbreds when their racing careers are over.  Thanks to the Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance (TAA) and Retired Racehorse Project (RRP), it is becoming much easier to discuss the fates of these horses.

Unfortunately, in the standardbred industry, it is still uncomfortable to discuss the future of retired racehorses.  Yes, there are independent rescue groups, the USTA does contribute where possible to the cause of retraining and retiring standardbreds but their budget is small when compared to the runners.  Now make no mistake, there are people in the industry who do care about their horses, the population of horsemen who care about their horses even after they leave their barn is larger than I ever imagined, but there are still those who have no problem sending their horses to dealers and an uncertain future.  However, for the industry to really be in a good position, there needs to be a standardbred aftercare alliance.  However, the industry lacks the financial resources to set up such an organization.  Perhaps forming an alliance with the TAA would be a good start,  Of course, the runners won't and shouldn't fund standardbred rescue, but sharing the back office could provide economies of scale in getting standardbred rescue stepped up to a higher level. 

Whipping is back as an issue, as Pennsylvania has approved new rules and Illinois is also looking at changing their rules as well.  Let;s face it, the issue isn't going away.  Hiding one's head in the sand isn't going to make the issue go away.  We have come to a case of leading or be led.  For more about whipping, PTP discussed it this past weekend.

Bee A Magician opened eyes in the AJ Cutler Prep race at the Meadowlands, scoring a 12-1 upset from post 10 and is in to compete against the same group of horses next week.  Is she that good?  History has shown mares being able to hold their own against the boys on the trotting side, but is the Cutler final the place she shows her supremacy?  I doubt it; next week with the big money on the line, expect a lot more competition waking up for their share of the purse.  However, if you believe the mare can pull it off, you should still get decent odds next week.

RUS fans rejoice.  The 2016 Ontario RUS racing circuit begins this weekend with two racing dates.  On the Friday, May 15, the currently 16 date season begins at The Raceway at Western Fair District and the continues on Sunday, May 17 at Flamboro Downs as part of the Confederation Cup program.

 These are wagering events so if you wish to show support for RUS, why not make a few wagers on these races if your AD carries them?

This year, RUS Ontario makes a visit to Charlottetown, PEI to be part of the Old Home Week celebration, depending on how the local commission acts, it may be the only non-wagering event on their schedule.  

To keep abreast of RUS Ontario's season, you may visit RUS Ontario's website. 

As for American RUS action, it looks for the most part it will be an exhibition slate again with tracks continuing to sign up.  The American schedule will be released shortly.  Hopefully the codifying of RUS by the USTA will allow racing commissions to enact their own regulations and allow wagering on these events in the future.  Unfortunately, there are certain horsemen groups opposed to RUS because why do anything which may fuel more interest in the standardbred racing?  It makes too much sense.

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Psst Buddy... Wanna Buy a Track?

If given the approval of a Bankruptcy Court judge, Balmoral and Maywood Parks may be going under the hammer, put up for sale to help settle the Chapter 11 Bankruptcy Case of the Johnston family.  Track ownership needs to hire an investment banker by June 29 to help look for potential buyers.

This doesn't bode well for harness racing in the Prairie state.  After all, do you know many people looking to buy a harness track lately, especially in one where getting slot machines seems to be an exercise in heartbreak.  This year, the General Assembly is in session to May 31.  Unlike past efforts, the new Governor doesn't object to casinos, but as of now, there is no current bill working its way through the legislature.  

I am sure one day slots will come to race tracks in the state as they did in Delaware, hopefully sooner than later so there isn't a similar situation as when Brandywine closed up for good before the state finally agreed to authorize them.  Without the right to operate racinos, it would hard to see any bidders looking to buy the track(s) for racing; potential bidders likely would be looking to redevelop the properties.  Should redevelopment comes to both tracks, for all practical purposes wipe out harness racing in Illinois, for while there is a fair circuit, how long would it survive without parimutuel wagering at the Chi-town tracks?

Friday, May 8, 2015

Friday Briefs

With a year of racing under saddle racing in Ontario under their belt, the ORC has tightened up the rules concerning the sport, lowering qualifying standards and requiring riders to qualify in more races before being eligible to compete.

Nuncio has taken to racing in Sweden having won two races there since leaving our shores for greener pastures, his latest victory came yesterday in the Weherstephaner-Dartste.  Depending on how he does in his next start, he may punch himself a ticket to the Elitlopp.

New Jersey Senate President Stephen Sweeney is getting cold feet about having a referendum to expand casino gambling in New Jersey this year.  Sweeney has expressed concern it would be better to hold the referendum during a Presidential election where more people will be going to the polls instead this year, with a much lower turnout.  Considering the polls and who typically votes in off year elections, Sweeney may very well be right.  My suspicion is a vote on a gambling referendum in New Jersey this year would end in disaster.

Want to check out a fun site related to harness racing?  Visit, a site developed by Heather Vitale.  If there is a chief-cheerleader for harness racing, it is Heather Vitale who lives and breathes harness racing.

It's undeniable that the quality of the overnight racing at the Meadowlands has dropped with $10,000 claimers and the like racing there.  However, when it comes to stakes races,  they still draw a good field.  On Saturday night, there is a prep race for the AJ Cutler Memorial which has horses with blue-blood pedigree.  Make sure you catch the 6th race on Saturday evening.

Inquiring minds want to know why if Thunder Ridge Raceway can list their handle for their individual pools in each race, which was a total of $28 for their six race card yesterday, why other tracks refuse to break their information down and report it to the USTA?  Bettors are entitled to see how deep their pools are.  What do they have to lose?  They never will be as bad as Thunder Ridge.

Have a great weekend everyone.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Thursday Briefs

Exchange wagering appears to be coming to New Jersey around August 2; for the runners that is.  On media day at Monmouth Park, Dennis Darzin mentioned he expected it to be ready for Haskell Day.  With the Meadowlands closing the current meet on August 8, assuming Exchange wagering does get the green light, the soonest harness fans would be able to participate in the highly-anticipated form of wagering would be with the fall/winter meet.

Why did Hazel Park jettison the trotters?  In the last year of harness racing, the track lost $1 million.  Last year, the loss was down to $150,000; an 85% improvement.  Granted a loss is a loss but at least they can see a little daylight though it took the local HBPA to give the track a sweetheart deal to get their feet in the door..  Of course, continuing losses will sink the track eventually without help so they are looking for alternative ways to raise revenue to keep going which doesn't involve slots.  That being said, one can understand why Hazel Park went the way they did.

You have to admire those at RUS Ontario.  Next week starts their season (which comprises of at least 16 races) and if there is one thing these ladies know how to do is market their sport, going to equine events during the off-season, introducing the sport to those unaware of it and having demonstrations.  In addition, they know how to take advantage of technology, including their website, Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.  Take a look at this post.

Have an iPhone?  No problem, download the Periscope application and you can have live streaming on your phone before the race and get interviews and look at the horses before wagering.  If you have a question, you can even ask your question about RUS and get an answer.  

Those who don't have an iPhone don't despair, when the streaming begins, RUS Ontario will tweet a link which will allow you to join in on your Android device or you home computer.

The season begins next Friday, May 15 at Western Fair District.

Before anyone compares RUS Ontario with the American efforts concerning racing under saddle, remember it is a whole different story.  In Canada, it basically was an effort concentrated in one province.  In the States, it is trying to get all the harness racing states on board; something which is extremely had to accomplish in the best of times and as we have seen, at least initially will be impossible.  Also, there was only the CPMA involved in getting wagering approved in Canada whereas South of the border, it is a state by state effort.  

There is something to be said about Federalism.

What comes around, goes around.  Years ago the USTA got rid of the Thoroughbred Racing Protective Bureau (TRPB) and decided to take care of integrity in-house.  Well, guess what?  The USTA has retained TRPB once again for their services.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

A Rocky Transition In The Aged Ranks

We seem to be in the early stages of a changing of the guard on the pacing side. Yagonnakissmeornot, the six-year-old soon to be a millionaire by The Panderosa won the Chip Noble at Miami Valley on Sunday in wire to wire fashion, after finishing second in the Blue Chip Matchmaker final. Carolsideal won four legs of the Matchmaker and finished third in the final, while the Bettor’s Delight mare, Venus Delight, won the Matchmaker. All this while last year’s co-winners of the Dan Patch, Anndrovette and Rocklamation, have floundered. And last year’s sophomore champ, Color’s A Virgin, was seventh in the Chip Noble.

Anndrovette’s only win in her last thirteen starts is a F&M preferred at Yonkers. Rocklamation won the Artiscape at Vernon Downs in early November, but that was her only win in her last ten starts.

And on the male side, Foiled Again, who recently had some minor corrective surgery that is expected to turn him in the right direction, has lost his last eleven starts. Take It Back Terry and P H Supercam, both successful participants in the Levy, are one-two on the aged male pacer list. Sweet Lou is retired from racing; Bettor’s Edge, Clear Vision and Dancin Yankee haven’t been very good; and Thinking Out Loud just qualified. Unlike the situation with the distaff pacers, there is quite a void on the male side. JK End, He’s Watching , McWicked and Miki better step up and fill it. However, all four are missing from Sunday’s elimination lineup for the Confederation Cup. Jug winner Limelight Beach and Messenger winner All Bets Off are entered.

Maven has lost all but one of her starts in Europe; she’s been victimized by bad luck in the draw, but too many losses, nonetheless. Shake It Cerry, who was expected to challenge in a tough aged division, has performed poorly in both 2015 starts. Sunday, in the Miami Valley Distaff, she was ground down on the backside by Daylon Miracle, who beat her last week in the Meadows Maturity, and she wound up finishing sixth, behind the likes of Whata Donato and Dancehall Mistress.  Last year’s division champ, Classic Martine, won at a generous 15-1 from the outside post. Outdoing the division prima donnas seems to be her stock and trade.

Bee A Magician, who drew the unlucky 13 post when she took on the boys in the Hambletonian Maturity last year, finishing second, drew the 10 post in Saturday’s TVG open/Cutler Prep. She beat a soft field of open boys in her season opener from the outside at Yonkers the other night. She’ll have a decision to make next week: Bee can continue to dance with the boys in the $175,000 Cutler on Saturday, or race in the $40,000 first leg of the Ms Versatility at Mohawk, two days later. Both races involve points that are banked toward eligibility for a lucrative final, with the TVG final being quite a bit more lucrative. “Stablemate,” the buxom Maven, is in Europe, making little money and earning no points.

Market Share, who finished third on the division money list, with low profile wins in the Maxie Lee and the Dayton Trotting Derby, is entered in Saturday’s Cutler Prep, but division winner, nine-year-old Sebastian K, and Maple Leaf and TVG winner, six-year-old Intimidate, are passing on the Cutler. Father Patrick was very strong in qualifying on Friday. He isn’t staked to the Cutler either; he’ll no doubt start in the first leg of the Graduate at Tioga on Memorial Day.

Arch Madness, Archangel and Trixton have retired. Nuncio is thriving in Europe, and Creatine is also racing there. And Sevruga has lost his Mojo. If the four-year-olds don’t step up, we’re counting on DW’s NY Yank, Melady’s Monet and Wind Of The North.

Joe FitzGerald

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Slots Negative Impact on the Sport

I have made no secret of the fact that slots has been a double-edged sword to the harness racing industry.  Sure, for those tracks which receive revenue, purses are higher, track operators are getting revenue to cover racing’s losses.  But what about the downside?  Druggist trainers cheat to get an advantage over honest trainers.  Owners, seeking to compete or land their share of slot money head over to the popular trainers, either knowing what is going on or closing their eyes, not wanting to know what is going on.

What does this mean to the smaller, honest trainers?  Typically it runs them out of the industry as they are unwilling to do what they feel is required to remain successful.  It has always been tough for the smaller trainers, casino revenue has made it almost impossible for them to survive and support their families.

Recently, I talked to a friend of mine who used to be a trainer and with the exception of some redaction to protect his identify as he still is involved in the industry from the periphery.  This trainer raced primarily in Pennsylvania, both before and after the advent of slots.  Despite having a small stable, he had horses racing in the Open Class for a period of time, occasionally racing in New York and New Jersey.  On the whole, these are his views; I can't speak on all the views he expresses.

I stopped training and driving almost 3 years ago. My last horses was [redacted], who won 5 races down in Chester and old [redacted], who won at Freehold for me.  The business is tough for the little guy.  My best friend got out at the same time. It is very hard to compete against the greedy chemist trainers who ruined the sport. 

I would love to get back into it if Freehold had higher purses so I wouldn't have to ship too far away from my family.  It is impossible to make a living with the purses at Freehold unless you do it as a hobby.

The hardest thing I ever did was walk away from what I loved to do, but when you work hard seven days a week and do everything right and then have to race against these chemist trainers and can't beat them it rips your heart out. Then, if you claim a horse off of them the horses go backwards from the drugs they are on.  It’s terrible, when they are caught, someone else goes down as a trainer.  It’s a joke as they are one step ahead of all the state testing labs.

When asked how slots has been a double-edged sword with some trainers treating their horses as machines doing whatever is necessary to win even at the expense of the horse, he replied:

You are 100% right, I am so glad that you see what is going on.  Most of the vets that are linked to these trainers are the real criminals

He continued:

In 2007, a horse I trained broke the track record where I was racing, only to have a super trainer claim it away three months later.

I mentioned to him I know another trainer who won’t go into the claiming game because of the rent a horse mentality as well as the temptation to ‘help’ a rent a horse.  Which got this response:

I totally agree with her. The claiming game is like musical chairs silent owners and trainers share the same horse.

These are tough words to read.  No, not every trainer is a cheat, but certainly a good number are being forced to straddle the line to remain competitive, some crossing the line.  There is no doubt post-race testing is a joke, I laugh each time a state reports its annual testing summary, knowing the testing is inadequate at best.    

Do people care?  At times you wonder when Jeff Gural is accused of being a bully for excluding certain trainers if people think trying to run a track where integrity rules is not a noble cause. 

When slots first came to New York, the thoroughbreds experienced a high number of breakdowns as they threw any horse with four legs in to race regardless of soundness.  Harness racing fortunately, didn't suffer these problems but make no mistake, there were seismic changes in owners' attitudes.  Mind you not everyone changed for the worse.  Unfortunately, many of those who refused to compromise their beliefs have found themselves on the sidelines while those willing to adapt continue on.

It makes one wonder.  Are slots worth it?  I'm not so sure.

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Derby Doldrums

Yesterday, the Meadowlands had their first 40 minute Pick-4 interspersing races from Tioga Downs with Meadowlands races for the first four.  Trying to get it done was a bit of a challenge with the third leg of the sequence not done prior to the third race (leg 4) going off.  Wagering on the Tioga Downs races had to be disappointing;

1st race (Meadowlands)  - Race handle $114,517
2nd race (Tioga Downs) - Race handle $24,961(includes $8,129 in Daily Double wagers)
3rd race (Meadowlands) - Race handle  $72,941
4th race (Tioga Downs ) - Race handle $30,399 (race started before 3rd went official; includes handle of $23,493 in 40 minute Pick-4 wagers and $1,731 in Daily Double wagers).

The overall wagering for the evening had to be disappointing as well.  The handle for the evening was $2,636,839.  With the Kentucky Derby contested and the first four races ran before the Derby, one would have thought the handle would have been much higher especially when last year's handle was $3,287,734; meaning handle was down  $650,895 or a whopping 20% with one additional race this year.  What contributed to the huge decline?  Field size.  In 2014 the average field size on Derby day was 9.46 while last night, the average field size of Meadowlands-only races was only 8.42.  Clearly having many seven and eight horse fields didn't help the handle.

On a side note, last night was the first time I ate at Pink, the Meadowlands fixed price dining option.  The food was excellent, as good as anything I had the pleasure of enjoying, I recommend it to those who may visit the Meadowlands.  I also took the time to head to Victory Terrace on the roof of the track.  It was too cool (windy) to stay up there but I could see it is a great place to hang out on a warmer evening to watch the race.and enjoy the amenities.  If you live close to the Meadowlands, you need to check it out.

Habitat was an easy winner in the Dexter Cup at Freehold Raceway yesterday.  The Dexter Cup officially kicks off the road to the Hambletonian.  Only problem is by the time the Hambletonian is contested, the Dexter Cup winner tends to to an also-ran the first Saturday in August.  We will see if Habitat is able to change the bad luck. 

Harness Racing America has an interview with the NYGC regarding the Pena suspension and the reaction many had to it.  The word unapologetic applies here.  It is worth a read.

Harness Racing Update has a tongue-in-cheek letter (I hope) on the front page of today's edition calling for legalizing of the use of all drugs on race horses.

Friday, May 1, 2015

Four-Year-Old Racing

Jeff Gural’s campaign to promote four-year-old racing kicks into high gear during May. On Sunday the Miami Valley Trot and the Chip Noble Pace will offer attractive top dollar vehicles for new grads; however, there were few takers from that class. Last year’s Trotter of the Year, Shake It Cerry, will seek redemption against her older sisters, after being pummeled by them in the Meadows Maturity. And Dan Patch winner Color’s A Virgin will try her luck against a stouter field of mares than the ones she crushed at Hoosier Park in her first two outings.

The word “maturity” has come to be associated with stakes races for four-year-olds, but the Meadows Maturity Mare drew only two from that class, Shake It Cerry and longshot Sweetie Hearts. The same goes for tomorrow’s S&G Maturity, which drew three new grads; NYSS whiz Gural Hanover; early season success, Rose Run Parker (Jailhouse Jesse); and the Yankee Glide gelding, Madewell Hanover.

A week from Sunday the newly configured Confederation Cup at Flamboro Downs will cater exclusively to four-year-old pacers. Meadowlands Pace winner and world record holder He’s Watching, who finished second to Lady Shadow in a qualifier at Mohawk this morning, leads the list of those eligible. Burke Racing’s low profile success All Bets Off, who won the inaugural edition of the Milstein as well as the Messenger and Matron, is also staked to the new attraction at Flamboro Downs. He and Luck Be Withyou, another nominee, will face six tough older pacers in Saturday’s Van Rose Invitational at Pocono Downs. Big Boy Dreams, a $265,000 purchase from the Burke Brigade by Rene Allard and friends was acquired specifically to compete in races like the Confederation Cup and Prix D’Ete. He’s currently embroiled in a controversy over his eligibility to the Graduate Series at Tioga and The Meadowlands.

The first leg of the Graduate pacing Series will be held at Tioga on Memorial Day. Twenty-nine made sustaining payments. Division champ McWicked and North America Cup and Tattersalls Pace winner JK Endofanera, who qualified in a swift 1:50.2 for Yannick Gingras at The Meadowlands this morning, both passed on the Confederation Cup, but each has been nominated to the Graduate Series. McWicked is also one of 28 four-year-olds staked to the $200,000 Prix D’Ete on August 23 at the Hippodrome. He’s Watching, All Bets Off, Big Boy Dreams, Limelight Beach and Somewhere In LA are eligible to all three. JK End is skipping both Canadian races.

The most intriguing member of last year’s sophomore pacing class, Tattersalls Pace and Bluegrass winner Always B Miki, has not signed up for the Confederation Cup or the Graduate Series, although he is staked to the Prix D’Ete. The near millionaire son of Always A Virgin, who is now in the Takter barn, had surgery on his left hind long pastern after being scratched from the Breeders Crown. That may be a factor in him skipping the early four-year-old exclusives. He was expected to be back in action by March 1.

The early season exclusive options for newly minted aged S&G trotters aren’t as plentiful as they are for the pacers. They do have the Graduate Series, which commences on Memorial Day at Tioga. There are 27 staked to it, including division champ Father Patrick, who looked sharp qualifying at The Meadowlands this morning; Trotter of the Year, Shake It Cerry; Erskine, Galt and ISS winner, EL Titan; and Datsyuk, who beat Patrick in the Tompkins Geers. Nuncio’s relocation to Europe leaves a large void.

Legs of the Graduate Series for pacers and trotters will run through June, culminating in a $250,000 final for the pacers on Friday, July 3, and for the trotters on Saturday July, 11. By then the four-year-olds should be ready to roll with their elders.

Joe FitzGerald

Friday Briefs

I can't help but notice this year, after the programs were printed, a scratch in the Kentucky Derby came before scratch time and one of the also eligibles is moving in.

Canadian tracks often have also eligibles in stakes races who an move in as late as the morning of race day; racing under a saddle number assigned when the program is printed, typically racing out of the post position of the scratched horse.  With gamblers demanding the maximum number of betting interests, I don't know why every race in North America doesn't have AEs printed in the program as if it was a Canadian stakes race if enough horses are entered.  Being owners want to make money, the also eligible would be free to enter any other race they can get in; scratching out of the race they were designated as an AE without penalty.  I know with the horse shortage drawing AEs may not be that easy, but what's the harm of doing so when the situation permits it?

Today is the start of the Meadowlands Challenge.  If you don't sign-up today, you are out of luck.

What does the Meadowlands have to fight against in order to win an anticipated November referendum to get a chance to operate a casino (there are no guarantees in New Jersey)?  Here is a little back and forth between Jeff Gural and a columnist for the Press of Atlantic City.  It appears it isn't going to be easy to win the support of South Jersey, meaning Central and North Jersey will have to be in favor of the referendum in a big way.  If the referendum gets on the ballot this year and goes down to defeat, the New Jersey standardbred industry better have a Plan B ready because one would imagine it wouldn't be long after election day when the group headed by Gural tosses in the towel and gets reimbursed for construction of the new track as called for in the lease agreement.

Death Penalty for Racing?  Two congressmen have had enough with racing, proposing to kill the industry off by repealing the Interstate Horseracing Act of 1978.  Were their proposal to become law, it would make wagering on horse racing by out of state sources illegal; could you imagine tracks living on what is wagered in state alone?  Realistically, the bill has no chance of pasting at this time, but it's not a good sign that someone is even trying this.

Have a great day