For photos from the Meadowlands contact

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Tuesday Briefs

Long time West Virginia horsemen Kelly Staten, a regular on the Rosecroft circuit for many years has been in poor health of late and recently, doctors were forced to remove one of his legs.  There is a GoFundMe site dedicated to raising funds to help the family with getting the home ready for his return.  Even if you can't make a large donation, those small donations add up.  Please consider donating.

While fireworks will be bursting out all over America for the 4th of July holiday,  there will be some fireworks at Hanover Raceway as the next stop in the Canadian Racing Under Saddle series takes place.  Entries have not been taken yet but program pages for the RUS event and the entire Hanover card will be available at Hanover Raceway's website.

The first day of racing at Goshen Historic track, admittedly the weakest of the four cards has been drawn with eight New York County Fair races on the docket.  Unfortunately, there are many short fields on the card including a duo of two and three horse races.  While not the fullest of fields, it gives racing fans the opportunity to take a stroll of the backstretch and meet trainers and drivers.  The ironic thing is the cheapest purse is $2,850, a respectable purse at any B track.

Have a great Tuesday all.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Sun Stakes Saturday Elimination Round

Ake Svanstedt did have that spectacular 1:49 world record from Sebastian K last year on Sun Stakes Saturday, but he did not have any starters in the $500,000 Beal final. This year he’ll have a pair, just as many as Jimmy Takter and one more than Ron Burke. His Muscle Hill colt, Southwind Mozart, finished second at 26/1 in the first elimination, coming off a win over NW1 where he broke his maiden. And Centurion ATM, a $100,000 yearling purchase by SJs Caviar, that Ake is very high on, finished third in the second elimination at 10/1. If that isn’t enough,  Sebastian is scheduled to make his seasonal debut in the invitational.

Jimmy Takter’s Pinkman, the 2014 division winner, who was three for three entering his Beal elimination and nine for eleven lifetime, got caught by 16/1 shot Wicker Hanover, but he still made the final. Entrymate, Whom Shall I Fear missed out. In that same elimination the highly regarded but unpredictable Muscles Yankee colt, Guess Whos Back, broke stride for Brian Sears. His absence from the final is disappointing.

In addition to Wicker Hanover and Pinkman, Explosive Matter, who is having a breakout year, got the gelding Shoot The Thrill into the final. Tim Tetrick, who has a penchant for matriculating any horse with four legs into the big dance, brought the 24/1 shot home third behind principals Uncle Lasse and Crazy Wow. The Beal is considerably more wide open than last year, when Nuncio, on an overland route to the wire, was no match for stablemate Father Patrick.

The two horses saddled with the 8 post in the pair of Franklin eliminations overcame that handicap and won those splits. Luck Be Withyou got it done on the front end with Pocono’s leading driver, George Napolitano Jr, sitting behind him, while State Treasurer wowed the viewers by coming from ninth at the three-quarters to win his split for David Miller. Last year, eventual winner Sweet Lou took his elimination in 1:47.4, while Domethatagain snuck up the inside and put a dagger in Captain T’s heart. That was the beginning of the end for the Captain. Lou just held off Bettor’s Edge in the final in a world record 1:47.

In 2014  four-year-olds Captain T, Sunshine Beach and Captive Audience made up a third of the Franklin finalists; this year elimination winner Luck Be Withyou is the only one. McWicked, He’s Watching and Always B Miki are ignoring Jeff Gural’s call for more four-year-old racing. They’re still on sabbatical.

McWicked dominated the Hempt last year. This time around the race is more competitive. For one thing, elimination winners Artspeak, Wiggle It Jiggleit and Wakizashi Hanover are all at the mercy of the open draw. And all three are legitimate contenders, two of them with top five drivers. In The Arsenal and Lost For Words will also add to the excitement.

Montrell Teague won the Hempt in 2011 with Wakizashi Hanover’s paternal brother, Custard The Dragon. He won off a pocket trip at 10/1. The Dragon Agains tend to make their bones in the aged ranks, but Wakizashi is probably his best three-year-old male ever, and Custard was also good. Plus, he’s one of the few not gelded. This won him a trip to Alberta for stud duty.

Montrell’s dad, George, also won the Hempt with Johnny Z and Badlands Nitro. Brian Sears drove those two to victory. So the Teague family is closely aligned with this race.

There are three sons of Bettor’s Delight in the Hempt, three more in the Franklin and a pair in the Lynch final. So 30% of the starters in the three pacing stakes will be by the prolific son of Cam’s Card Shark.

After four years of domination by great sophomore pacing fillies—Put On A Show, Peelers, Jewel and Nitelife—we were treated to a hit or miss grab bag of distaffs last year. George Nap got Fancy Desire to the top after a 26.2 quarter in the Lynch and that was that.

The 2014 Horse of the Year, JK She’salady, was expected to reintroduce dominance to this division, but she lost her third straight in her Lynch elimination. Number two option, Sassa Hanover, also lost. John Campbell beat those two with Put On A Show’s little sister, The Show Returns, a 9/2 option. Steve Elliott’s Western Ideal filly Stacia Hanover won another split as the even money choice and Virgil Morgan’s SBSW filly, Momas Got A Gun, who came in with one win in six 2015 starts, won the other for Brett Miller. The Lynch will be a horse race.

Last year five world records were set or equaled on the Sun Stakes card. Even over a sloppy track, with the rain pouring down, the miles were fast in Saturday’s elimination round. The long range forecast for the finals calls for warm 85 degree temps with a 50% chance of scattered thunderstorms. We’ll take that.

Joe FitzGerald

Short Fields vs Competitive Races

Yesterday in HRU, there was an article where Jeff Gural suggested he may consider going 'dark' in the month of June next year due to the inability to put together full fields which are essential to becoming profitable.  Of course, with the shortage of horses nation-wide, many tracks face similar problems.

HANA Harness is conducting a one question survey asking horseplayers a simple question.  Would you prefer your favorite track to continue carding their typical races with short fields or would you rather see them card lower class horses (for example the bottom class became $4,000 claimers instead of $8,000 claimers) in order to card full, competitive races?

What do you think?  You may take the survey on Facebook by going to HANA Harness's page.  While going to the HANA Harness' Facebook page, while not 'Like' it?  HANA Harness is a sub-group of the Horseplayers Association of North America, dedicated to those horseplayers who have an interest in harness racing.  In addition an occasional survey like this one, HANA Harness' page will post links to articles of specific interest to the harness horseplayer.

Not on Facebook?  No problem, you may still participate in taking the survey by going directly to the survey here.  Either way, let your voice be heard.

If you recall, I was boycotting handicapping the races at Mohegan Sun Pocono Downs due to the outrageous rake they have on their wagers (ranging from 20% to 35%).  If you are looking for a recap of last night's eliminations from Pocono, Harness Racing Update has a recap of the races including links to race replays in today's edition.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

The Light Goes On...

as Jeff Gural has finally realized what others have known for a while.  For all practical purposes, he is alone in running the Meadowlands.  The accolades and cheers when he first saved the track have long been silenced.  It's lonely at the top.  It's about time he realized it.  The writing has been on the wall.

HRU reports in today's edition that Gural is looking to overhaul next year's racing schedule, in particular cancelling racing in June in favor of concerts or less likely, scuttle stakes races in order to jack up overnight purses.  In other-words, he is looking to make better use of the facility to make money instead of losing money.    

Maybe it was naive to think the industry would rally around the Meadowlands as he initially thought. In the ideal world, Harrah's, Mohegan Sun, Yonkers, and the Meadowlands would coordinate schedules so everyone would be able to maximize race fields.  That's not going to happen.  Trainers loyal to the Meadowlands? They haven't and there is no reason to suspect they will.  Top drivers?  While some drivers have remained behind loyally, many have moved on to greener pastures.

The only thing certain in harness racing is everyone is in it for themselves.  As such Gural has decided it is time to look out for his own interest which is the bottom line.  If it is more profitable to put on concerts, he's going to do it.

In the interview, it was broached what would happen if gaming doesn't come to the Meadowlands.  It is quite possible the Meadowlands would pull a Hazel Park and send the standardbreds packing, in favor for thoroughbreds or quarter horses. Auto racing is another possibility (though talk of car racing in the past has not been favorable) as is just becoming an entertainment center.  He has a facility which has the potential to be profitable and he knows it.  

For the first time, it seems everyone knows where everyone stands; no false illusions.  Everyone is in it for themselves.  Unless things change, the standardbreds may be on the outside looking in.

Friday, June 26, 2015

What Won't They Try? Life with Momma

And we thought Cobalt was a problem.  Apparently, there are those willing to try anything when it comes to doping horses.  Today's outrage comes to us courtesy of  The Sydney Morning Herald where in a hearing conducted by stewards in New South Wales, Australia it was learned it is common for horses to be treated with formaldehyde, known by many as embalming fluid to help prevent bleeding.  While this hearing concerned thoroughbred racing, harness racing doesn't go unscathed as it was a suspended standardbred trainer who did the honors of injecting the horse.   The other substance identified as being used in this treatment was Vitamin C (at least the horse won't catch cold).  

Is there anything rouge trainers won't try to get an edge on their competition?  No wonder 'clean' trainers are getting whooped not only in the races, but with owners leaving for other trainers who have better records.

Was this discovery the work of testing?  No, this came out in testimony at a hearing.  The horse in question tested positive for cobalt and caffeine.

As followers of horse racing know, what is done in Australasia tends to find its way to our shores and vice versa.  Will we know when formaldehyde arrives?  After all, what is the likelihood a state is testing for formaldehyde which has no therapeutic use in a horse?.  This is why in the grand scheme of things testing by individual states is virtually worthless.

If there is any hope in the fight against illegal drugs with our athletes, it is necessary to have all testing and development of tests coordinated by one group on the federal level for the states, despite their best intentions have been unable to dedicate the resources necessary to successfully protect our equine athletes. Such an agency should have undercover agents to investigate and prosecute cheats caught in the act.  This will allow regulators to regulate, leaving drug testing and the administering of penalties to the federal level agency.

And so it begins.  With the approval of the horsemen, Thursdaday's card at Plainridge Park was postponed until this coming Monday due to the successful opening of the casino and it will be raced at 11:00am instead of the normal post time.  Slots are king at Plainridge Park and everything must be done so casino gamers may get to the slot parlor as easily as possible even if it means altering the harness schedule.  Of course there is no objection by the harness horsemen as slots is the lifeline to the purse account.  Fans in Massachusetts may as well get used to it.

Chris Oakes says 'Let me in'.  In today's HRU, we read how Howard Taylor, representing trainer Chris Oakes, is fighting to get Oakes' horses into the Meadowlands for the stakes races, claiming Jeff Gural is inconsistent with his exclusions.  This un-legal beagle would argue as a person with private property rights, who says you need to be consistent?  If someone looked funny at Gural, he could send that individual packing while another person can make the same face gesture and Gural could ignore it.  Is there any rhyme or reason to it?  Absolutely not.  Would it be better if there was a written exclusion policy which lists when a person can be excluded?  Absolutely.  I am not saying Gural is or isn't being inconsistent, the point is it his sand box and he can do what ever he pleases.

Jeff Gural has got to be the most sued individual in harness racing these days.  You would think these trainers have dozen of horses ready to hit the Meadowlands if they were successful.  Unfortunately, it is all about 'hit and run'; get in for the stakes race and head back to Pennsylvania.

In the same edition of HRU, Heather Vitale writes about growing up with Mom, who was active in harness racing and how it made last week's victory in the Pepsi North America Cup all the more affirming.  It's worth a read.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

The Clock Continues to Tick....

In Illinois as the IHHA has reached an agreement to extend their contract with Balmoral and Maywood on the same terms through October as it expires on June 30.  Of course, the contract needs to be approved by the bankruptcy court before it can be put into effect.

Of course, that assumes there are racetracks to race at.  The Johnstons are to find an acceptable buyer by June 29 or face the judgement against them.  Supposedly there are prospective buyers out there; it is unknown whether or not they are interested in racing long term.  It is also reported that the Johnstons have petitioned the courts for two additional months to file their reorganization plan so perhaps it will buy some extra time.

Meanwhile, no state budget has been approvnd come July 15, the Governer plans to start shutting down government, and purse money for state fairs may dry up.  Still no word on casino gaming.  I suspect if nothing is voted on yet regarding gaming, it isn't happening this year.

Meanwhile the clock continues to tick.  Is this the year harness racing dies in the Prairie State?  Hopefully not.

This weekend is a big one at Pocono Downs.  I'll have no part of it with their obscene rakes.  Instead I will look at the TVG Trot Friday night at the Meadowlands.  A short field but intriguing as Ake Svendstedt unveils another pupil, Mr. Picolit S, an eight year old son of Scarlet Knight.  He makes his North American debut off of one 1:55 qualifier at the Meadowlands, following a similar path as did Sebastian K.

One difference though between the two.  While Mr. Picolit S has back class, 2014 was certainly not his year as he earned the equivalent of roughly $34,000.  He won the 2013 Coppenhagen Cup defeating none other than Commander Crowe and competed successfully against some top European talent.  The question is which horse shows up?  If he shows his back class he toys with this field.  He is reported to be ready but if you think you are getting the morning line of 10-1, you will be disappointed.  I expect people remembering last year's debut of Sebastian K will pound this one down to no more than 6-1.

If you are looking for something a little more known, I like DW's NY Yank though there will be little value there.  If you are looking to play the shipper angle, then Flanagan Memory is worth a look.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Bettor's Delight

Bettor’s Delight is. Without a doubt, the most prolific sire to come down from his granddad Cam Fella. It is his sire Cam’s Card Shark, not Camluck, Cambest, Precious Bunny, Fake Left, Goalie Jeff, Pacific Fella, or any of the others, who has extended Cam Fella in a meaningful way into the second decade of the twenty-first century in North America. Bettor’s Delight is a three-for: he has dominated the lucrative NYSS for years; he is more than competitive on the Grand Circuit; and he is a major player in the day to day sector.

Seventeen-year-old Bettor’s Delight, who will see his eleventh crop race this year, is the leading money-winning sire among pacers of all-ages in North America in 2015, with more than $7 million earned. He is also the leading money winning sire among three-year-old pacers. Overall, his offspring have earned more than $126 million.

Mosquito Blue Chip, who won the $225,000 Night of Champions pace last year; Steve Elliott’s Not Before Eight, who won a split of the Watson at Yonkers the other night; and Bettorhaveanother, are a few of this year’s productive sophomore fillies, while, My Spirit Soars, National Seelster, J Eagle Feather and A Bettor Hat are a few of the better colts.

Sunday there were three $30,000 splits of the NYSS for sophomore colt pacers at Vernon Downs. Eleven of the 29 starters were by Bettor’s Delight and three of the four divisions were won by his sons. This is the norm. His 2015 freshman crop, which numbered 98, will race in the Ontario sire stakes program. And in 2016 and 2017 the peripatetic stallion’s freshmen will have a go at the crew in Pennsylvania. Then it will be back to Ontario. This shiftless lifestyle is of no concern to BD: for the first dozen years of his career he averaged 111 registered foals.

Bettor’s Delight has 10 standard millionaires and three double-millionaires based in North America. (He also has three singles and a double Down Under).  The outstanding FFA pacer, Bettor Sweet, who won the Breeders Crown twice, is the richest male. Darlin’s Delight and Southwind Tempo, both of whom won their division at three, are the two fillies. Worldwide he has 56 $500,000 winners and 332 $100,000 winners. To put that in perspective, Dragon Again, who is three years older, and known more for his hard hitting aged stock—Wakizashi notwithstanding—than his Grand Circuit types, has 26 $500,000 winners and 97 $100,000 winners.

Cam Fella is responsible for the three all-age world records by Cambest, Bettor’s Delight’s paternal brother Holborn Hanover and Bettor’s Delight’s daughter, the retired Shebestingin, who holds a 1:47 mark. The Most Happy Fella branch running through No Nukes, Western Hanover, Western Ideal, Rocknroll and American ideal is more accomplished, but Cam’s crew still holds the speed marks.

See You At Peelers, who won 22 in a row, and won her division at two and three, is Bettor’s Delight’s most accomplished horse in North America. She won the Breeders Crown, Fan Hanover, Tarport Hap and Valley Forge, and beat the boys in the Rooney. The super star son is missing: the top earning son is incomplete; number two and three slots on the money chart are occupied by mares; the most accomplished offspring is a filly.

Betterthancheddar, who is standing his second season in Ontario (first was in NY), is his fastest complete son. He won the Breeders Crown and Cane at three and took the Franklin in a world record 1:48 at four. He did not race at two. Cheddar bred 68 mares at a $4,500 fee his first season, in New York. This year $1,000 was lopped off his fee when he moved North. Bettor’s Delight has no Rocknroll Hanover or Captaintreacherous to carry the ball for him; the markedly  inbred Cheddar is his premier stallion.

Of course, Bettor’s Delight’s full brother Roll With Joe, who will unveil his first race crop this year, will also have every opportunity to extend Cam’s Card Shark, and in turn, Cam Fella.

All Bets Off was the archetypal Bettor’s Delight colt. Last year he won the Messenger, Rooney and Milstein on the Grand Circuit, and he won NYSS races at Yonkers, Monticello and Vernon Downs. And he took the Confederation Cup this year. Ron Burke is a master when it comes to playing a colt like this in both sectors simultaneously. Vegas Vacation serves as another good example. He won the high dollar EBC restricted stake in New York, as well as the Jug, Simcoe and Matron.

Aside from Vegas Vacation; Fashion Delight, Bullville Powerful, Kenneth J, Shebestingin, Bettor B Lucky, Peelers and Indulge Me all augmented their GC income with EBC wins.

As a broodmare sire Bettor’s Delight hasn’t yet hit the lottery. Age is obviously a major factor here, and his best days should be ahead of him. Messenger winner Ronny Bugatti (Art Major) is the top money maker in this group. Emeritus Maximus, Fast And Feisty, Ultimate Beachboy and The Real One round out the top five. That Messenger win by Ronny, in a track record 1:51.2, is the only open stakes win for this crew. It’s fair to say that BD is off to a slow start as a broodmare sire.

As great a career as Bettor’s Delight has had as a stallion, he hasn’t come close to reproducing himself. He won his division twice, at two and three; captured the BC, Governor’s Cup and Nassagaweya at two; and won the Jug and Tattersalls Pace at three. None of his sons have come close to matching that record. What Muscles Yankee did with Muscle Hill, Bettor’s Delight hasn’t come close to doing.

He has no North America Cup or Meadowlands Pace winners. Vegas Vacation, who only won once at two and didn’t race at four, won the Jug, as well as the Matron. He has no Tattersalls Pace, Adios or Battle Of Brandywine winners.

Cheddar won the Breeders Crown at three and the Franklin in world record time the following year, but having no history at two and a narrow period of top tier performances at three, hurts. Bettor Sweet, a half -brother to Sweet Lou, won the BC twice in his aged form as well as the Bettor’s Delight/Roll With Joe, but the Progress Pace was his only significant open won at three.

Tuffofthetoughest took the Hempt, while Kenneth J won splits of the Bluegrass and ISS. Island Delight also won the latter. All Bets Off won the Messenger, Rooney, Milstein and Matron. All in all, in North America, the males excel at restricted racing and overnights. They are good, but not great, on the Grand Circuit.

The fillies have fared very well on the open stakes circuit: Peelers, Soutwind Tempo, Darlin’s Delight, Bettor B Lucky, Shebestingin, Eternity’s Delight, Table Talk, JK Black, JK Owhatanite and others have more than held their own.

Bettor’s Delight just needs to knock one out of the park, with a complete son, to put the finishing touches on his legacy.

Joe FitzGerald


Tuesday, June 23, 2015

RUS New York Kicks-off the 2015 Season; Show Your Suspport

Another year, another season for RUS racing in New York State.  As in other states, RUS racing is conducted without parimutuel racing in the United States.  Due to the lack of wagering, purses must be funded via sponsorships; especially those races being conducted on the fair circuit.  Since fairs in New York don't offer pari-mutuel wagering, the only way fairs can determine the interest in RUS is by putting seats in the grandstand.

Here is the fair schedule for New York
• Wednesday, July 1 – Oswego County in Sandy Creek
• Tuesday, July 7- Tioga County in Owego
• Thursday, July 9 – Afton Fair
• Tuesday, July 21 – “Little Worlds Fair in Hemlock
• Tuesday, Aug 4 – Otsego County in Morris
• Monday, Aug. 10 – Wayne County in Palmyra
• Wednesday, Aug. 12 – Franklin County in Malone
• Tuesday, Aug. 18 – Steuben County in Bath
• Tuesday, Aug. 25 – Tompkins County in Trumansburg
• Wednesday, Sept. 2- Final race to be included with the harness race fair finals at Monticello Raceway

Racing Under Saddle will be occurring at pari-mutuel tracks as well.  Vernon Downs begins a RUS series on July 26 and Monticello will be holding two races in addition to the fair finals.  Other racetracks will be announced as dates are finalized.

If you are able, attend as many RUS dates as possible to show both fair committees and sponsors there is a demand for racing under saddle.  Nothing like a large audience to show interest in the racing product.

Do you have a horse you want to start in a RUS event but are looking for an easier place to begin their career?  The New York fair circuit may be where you want to start your horse's career as the qualifying time on the fair circuit is 2:20 regardless of track size.  The complete conditions for the fair circuit are located here.

Sponsorship options are available at different levels and may be made for a particular track or the entire series.  As with sponsorships, sponsors will be recognized in the programs.  Sponsorship levels are as follows: Premier Platinum Sponsorship ($2,000 plus); Platinum Sponsorship ($1,000 plus); Gold Sponsorship ($ 550 plus); Silver ($250 plus); Bronze Sponsorship ($100 plus); Contributors (anything under $100); Sponsors who donate product.

Who should consider sponsorship?  Those who are interested in promoting RUS and supporting racing by those who hope to compete on the parimutuel level; trainers who are looking to expand their stable, including horses who will race under saddle; riders looking to get their name out there for future mounts; breeders and lovers of the standardbred who are looking to show the versatility of the standardbred; fans of racing.  Truth is there is a sponsorship level for individuals competing at different levels in the sport.  If interested in becoming a sponsor, check out the sponsorship page on RUS New York's website or contact me and I will put you in contact with the proper individual.

If you are a fan and want to show your love for RUS, you can click on this link and purchase  sweatshirts and t-shirts here.  The pricing is reasonable, so why not take a look?

Time for a Real Championship Series

One can't help but wonder if the TVG Series has become outdated so quickly with only six trotters dropping into the box for this Friday's tilt at the Meadowlands. Granted, with a purse of $50,000 it is not exactly going to draw the best FFA trotters with many major stakes races yet to come. Standardbreds, especially the top horses, are not racing as much as they once did so it is easy to bypass this race.

Quite honestly, the funds provided by TVG and those additional funds invested by Jeff Gural could be better spent on a true championship series.  Some will say the Breeders Crown is the championship series, but with anyone willing to put the starting fees up (assuming the stallion is nominated), you can buy your way into the dance, and win even if a maiden (though admittedly, you may not get through any elimination race which may be scheduled).

A true championship race would be one restricted to those which raced the best all season long on the Grand Circuit.   I see two ways a revised TVG series could be formatted.  In the first format points could be earned for each start in Grand Circuit events.  When the time comes to race the year end championship, those horses entered with the highest point totals earned on the Roarin' Grand would be the ones to contest the TVG Series Championship.

The seecond proposal would be similar to the first, except there would be 'win it,, you're in it' races both in North America and abroad (assuming a horse is eligible for the championship race).  These horses would be granted automatic berths in the final.  In the event, not all the 'win it you're in it' horses drop in, the highest point earners of the other horses who drop in would fill out the field.

Where the TVG series is currently intended for older horses, there would be a championship race for each age, sex, and gait.  The race could be contested either before or after the Breeders Crown but make no mistake, this new series would truly reward the best of the best, not just the hottest at the time.

Then harness racing would truly have a championship series..

Monday, June 22, 2015

Weekend RUS Recap

This past Saturday at Kwartha Downs a RUS event was carded.  In a competitive race until they hit the stretch the final line,   The winner was Muscles Massive in a very good 2:00.4.

Approximately $3,100 was wagered on the race, below the average for the day, but with a short field of six, it could somewhat be expected.

Yes, if anyone is wondering, there is an auto track inside the five-eighths oval.  Many of the smaller harness tracks are multi-purpose to one degree or another.

RUS is a nice 'safe 'sport?    Hardly.  Ask the family of Christelle Zimmer who died as a result of a fall she experienced during a monté race in Chartes, France.  Reports indicate she had a heart attack but the suspicion is the heart attack was the result of the injuries she suffered as the result of her fall.

Some may feel RUS is not real racing, no danger and a merely a jaunt around the track..  Quite the opposite; it is as dangerous as traditional standardbred racing (probably worse based on insurance premiums), full of risk for drivers and jockeys alike and involves speed and decisions made as you go.  Our sympathy goes out to the family of Christelle Zimmer.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

And the Number is Sixteen

In Friday night's third race at the Meadowlands, a GSY Amateur Trot, Captain Primeau was the race winner.  One may want to congratulate the driver; others may have been wincing at what they saw as the driver hit the eventual race winner by my couont sixteen times with the whip in the last quarter mile of the race.

You can watch the replay here in its entirety or you can move to the 1:38 mark on the video to watch the final quarter. Watch the #9 horse. If you wish to see the final quarter of the race without adjusting the video, you can just click here.

Now there is no denying the horse won the race, perhaps not accomplishing that without the whipping.  I would like to call it the tapping of the whip but it looks as if at times, the driver really wound up and laid into the horse in what appears to be a violation of the current rules of racing.  In fairness, I did not see the horse after the race or hear of his appearance in the paddock afterwards so it is possible no physical injury is evident.

Victory or not, there is a reason Amateur clubs are called 'gentlemen's driving clubs'; this drive was far from gentlemanly.  In addition, could you imagine what the rare newcomer to harness racing thought of this drive?  If the newcomer watched the race enough, I am sure they would have been wincing, likely never to return.  On the other hand, the horseplayer who had the winning horse have have admittedly been happy with the drive.

We will see if the driver is fined and/or given days for the infractions (days hardly being a problem with an amateur).  But in light of what happened, it is clear there needs to be required to have one hand in each handhold to keep the driver from making an exaggerated movement with his whipping hand.  In addition, any driver, professional or amateur who drives with such 'gusto' needs to learn how not to rely on the whip as much..

The industry is on shaky ground to begin with, we don't need moments like this making things worse.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Which Trainers Are Ahead Of Last Year's Pace?

Some trainers, like Jimmy Takter and Casie Coleman, fill their piggy banks during the second half of the year, when stakes racing opportunities are plentiful, while others grind out the wins and money from January to December. As a result, in checking how various trainers are faring this year, I’ll compare them to themselves; I’ll look at where they were on this date last year and see how far ahead, or behind, their mid-June of 2014 numbers they are.

It’s no surprise that Ron Burke currently—and always--leads both the trainer’s money and dash lists, however, he is chasing last year’s pace. His veterans Foiled Again, Clear Vision, Bettor’s Edge and Rocklamation, are off to slow starts, for one thing. Burke has made more than 200 fewer starts than he made by mid-June a year ago, leading to more than 85 fewer wins and a shortfall of $1.2 million on the money line. He’ll have to hustle to surpass last year’s world record performance.

PJ Fraley, who was handling the Bamond Racing stock, was second a year ago, and finished 2014 in the five slot. This year he disappeared from the planet, leaving the stable to Jeff Bamond Jr, and he hasn’t missed a beat. He’s currently number three on the list. Bamond has Matchmaker winner Venus Delight, as well as Anndrovette, Krispy Apple and Bettorever.

Rene Allard, who was third at this juncture a year ago, and finished 2014 in eighth, has married success with aged money makers like Domethatagain and Yagonnakissmeornot, and good fortune with fresh stock like import Crombie A. He isn’t welcome at The Meadowlands, Tioga or Vernon Downs, but seems to be none the worse for it. Allard is almost $400,000 ahead of last year’s pace. The Grand Circuit isn’t his strength, so he will probably fall behind stakes trainers like Takter, Alagna and Coleman once again.

Gilberto Garcia-Hererra, who was in the six slot in June of last year, has stepped up to number four. His stable has made 240 more starts, but he has only three more wins. However, he’s $300,000 ahead of his 2014 pace. Better stock accounts for this uptick.

Julie Miller’s stable was hot during the winter and spring of 2014, with trotter Perfect Alliance winning eleven races. This led to her ascension to the five slot one year ago today. She drops to number nine, with 25 fewer wins and more than $370,000 less in earnings. Her top shelf Donato fillies, Livininthefastlane and Sky Hanover, may help turn that around.

Carmen Auciello, who practices his trade on both sides of the border, is consistent; he was number seven in mid-June of last year, and is currently in the number eight spot. The same can be said of Ontario based trainer Richard Moreau, who was at eight a year ago and is now at seven. Mark Ford, who was ninth this time last year and is now tenth, also fits this template. Auciello, Moreau and Ford finished last year at the twelve, thirteen and fourteen spots.

Irv Miller has taken a major nosedive, from the tenth spot a year ago to number 46 today. Miller, who finished 2014 third behind Burke and Takter, has made 92 fewer starts, has 21 fewer wins and is more than $490,000 short of what his stable had bankrolled this time last year.

Josh Green experienced a similar drop-off, but the lengthy suspension he served helps explain that. He went from eleventh to forty-third. Green is off more than 200 starts and $457,000. The fact that Dancin Yankee, who was a beast out of the gate last year, started out like a lamb in 2015, hasn’t helped.

Thirty-two-year-old Jose Godinez has rocketed up the charts. He went from the number 44 slot this time last year to number twelve right now. As recently as 2011 he only had 11 starters; he has 329 thus far in 2014. Godinez is up more than 30 wins and $415,000. He’s the number eight trainer at Yonkers Raceway.

Virgil Morgan, who was tenth overall on the money list at the close of 2014, has benefitted greatly from the infusion of casino dollars into the Ohio purse account. He was twelfth at this time last year, but is now sixth.

Veteran trainer Steve Elliott, who conditioned Donato Hanover and Well Said, wasn’t in the top 50 last June, but a star studded cast that includes Art History, Rockeyed Optimist and Doo Wop Hanover, have him at number 16, and that’s off of fewer starts than any of the trainers in front of him except for Jimmy Takter.

Jim King Jr wasn’t in the top 50 a year ago, but he’s at number 27 today, with 55 wins and $611,952 in the bank. Cup contender Wakizashi Hanover, Lismore winner Purrfect Bags and Star Keeper are three of the reasons.

Tony O’Sullivan, who finished 2014 at number 18, went from 23 in June of 2014 to number 13 today. His Art Major filly, Moonlit Dance, just won a Fan Hanover elimination.

Scott Di Dominico jumped three spots to number 11, while Daran Casar, Heidi Rohr, Mark Harder, Joe Holloway, Amber Buter, Lou Pena and Kevin Carr all fell back.

As was stated earlier, some of these trainers will automatically pick up steam when the Grand Circuit gets into full swing, while others will continue to mine the overnight sector, and in most cases drop to one degree or another.

Joe FitzGerald

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Appeals Court Rebukes MGCB.

The US Appeals Court for the Sixth Circuit found the Michigan Gaming Control Board violated the rights of drivers who were implicated in an alleged race fixing scandal, which as is often the case in these types of scandals, resulted in none of the drivers being charged    The drivers are suing the MCGB for damages.

During the hearings, the drivers were threatened with the loss of their license if they didn't answer questions related to the race fixing scandal.  Being a State Police Detective informed the drivers' attorney that they would be arrested after  testifying at the hearing, the drivers naturally refused to answer questions citing the 5th Amendment.  The commission in response, revoked the drivers 2010 license and refused to license them from 2011-2013.

The Appeals Court issued a split decision for the drivers.  Claiming the drivers received a hearing regarding their initial suspension, the court upheld the district court's finding that the MGCB didn't violate the drivers' rights.   However, with regards to the MGCB not licensing the drivers in subsequent years (2011-2013), the drivers were not afforded hearings, hence due process and in these instances, the judges overturned the summary judgement, claiming the drivers didn't receive due process each year.

The appeals court has remanded the case back to the district court.  For those legal beagles, here is the opinion of the Sixth Circuit for your reading pleasure.

An Illogical Conflict? Do the Math

Several people recently commented how they couldn't understand why two tracks owned by the same operator are competing against each other on Sunday afternoons, especially when they race in the same state.  Wouldn't it make sense for one track to race Sunday nights when there are fewer tracks operating, and get a larger portion of the simulcasting dollars available?

Of course, they are talking about Tioga and Vernon Downs.  Vernon Downs used to race on Thursday nights, but this year they dropped Thursdays in favor of Sunday afternoons which is when Tioga Downs traditionally races.  On the surface, the arguments presented by those who can't understand the conflicting tracks make sense; when you do the math, the decision to 'compete' makes perfect sense.

After checking, I was reminded the first premise at Tioga and Vernon Downs is to support and grow the live racing experience.  As a result, it is more important to present racing which people can attend and experience, hopefully growing new fans now and in the future.  Obviously, more people can and have been attending racing on Sunday afternoon at Vernon than they were on Thursday evenings and it is reflected in the growth in handle.

In addition, being racinos, larger racing crowds benefits the other amenities the properties have.  While few slot players become horse racing players, those who play the horses are often willing to play the slots which means more wagering on the gaming floor occurs when there are live racing cards.  Not only does it increase the amount of money played on the gaming floor, increased attendance at the track results in increased food and beverage sales be it at the concession stands or at one of the facility's restaurants; increases which wouldn't be seen if Vernon raced on a Tuesday or Wednesday evening to avoid the conflicting with Tioga on Sundays.

Now is time for the real math, wagering.  It was suggested a track would benefit by racing on Sunday nights, when few tracks are racing.  On the surface, it makes perfect sense, but when you look at the details, it doesn't.  Let's assume Vernon Downs as an example, a Sunday afternoon of racing meant an extra $100,000 bet by those in attendance.  The track and horsemen get an average of 20% combined on what is wagered, so this $100,000 results in an additional $20,000 for the track and horsemen to share.  Being the track and horsemen share 3% on what is wagered at simulcasting locations and ADWs, an additional $666,667 would need to be wagered on Vernon Downs off-track to break even when compared to what is earned by the additional $100,000 in this example wagered on track; assuming the off-track would increase this amount.  To come out ahead, even more money would need to be wagered off-track.  Being this increase would mostly come at the expense of Balmoral Park the odds of Vernon Downs being able to reach the break-even point is highly unlikely.  Hence, racing on a Sunday night, Vernon Downs would face a trifecta of losses; less money for the track and horsemen; less money in food and beverage sales; less money wagered on the gaming floor.

More important than seeing the business case for Vernon competing against Tioga on Sundays, the situation shows how flawed the current method of determining how much a sending track gets from ADWs is.  With tracks receiving so little for their signal, why should they worry about issues like too many tracks racing at the same time, especially when they are racinos which have the means to increase revenue from other sources such as alternate gaming and food and beverage sales?

When tracks (and horsemen) are able to earn a fair amount for their signals, then you will see more cooperation in scheduling racing to avoid an oversupply of product on the simulcast market.  Until then, each track will schedule their racing calendar to meet their own needs regardless of who else is or isn't racing.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

No Casino Referendum in 2015 (or 2016 for that matter)

NJ State Senate President Stephen Sweeney has once again made it clear that he opposes a referendum regarding casino gambling in Northern New Jersey for the 2015 general election, a set back for the Meadowlands and others hoping to open casinos in the northern part of the state.

If only one could believe the Senate President.  Was it not last year where he mentioned a possibility of a referendum in 2015?  It may have been a tactical mistake for the Meadowlands and others to announce their plans or candidacy for a casino as it caused an uproar in South Jersey, the power base of Sweeney.   

Based on the uproar, I suspect Sweeney is either favoring a 2016 referendum vote because it will be less likely for it to pass or more likely the case, will find another reason not to move forward with a referendum in 2016.  Remember, Sweeney is considered a likely candidate to run for Governor in 2017; a candidacy which will suffer a great set back if he angers much of the South Jersey electorate.

The prediction here is there will be no Senate vote on a referendum until Sweeney loses his leadership position or he decides not to run or is defeated in a campaign to be Governor.  Which puts all of horse racing in precarious situation because how long can racetracks absorb losses?

The sad truth is opening up more of New Jersey is not a question of what is right or wrong for the state; it is about power and getting re-elected to office.  Yes, Sweeney for now can block the vote, but rest assured getting 3/5ths the vote in each legislative body is going to be a question of assemblymen and senators looking at their likelihood of getting re-elected if they vote one way or the other.

Friday, June 12, 2015

What About the Fans?

In one of the most heated debates I have seen in quite awhile, the issue of the Yonkers International being raced on the same day as the Kentucky Futurity continues to burn up keyboards around America.  There are those who claim it is a vast conspiracy of certain individuals in New York to schedule the race where they did regardless of what other race(s) may have been scheduled for the day, pointing to the fact Yonkers is racing on Saturday, October 10 during the afternoon, unheard of at Yonkers for a Saturday, instead of their usual night card.  There are those who are defending Yonkers saying anytime a $1 million race is being offered it should be applauded.  

One thing for certain, no one is thinking about the fans, a problem all too familiar in harness racing.  No one mentioned how great it is that we can offer harness racing fans not only The Kentucky Futurity (and companion Filly stake), Allerage Farms races for older horses of both gaits and sexes, The Tatersalls, and Glen Garnsey Memorial from The Red Mile PLUS the Yonkers International Trot from Yonkers Raceway all in the same day.  

Instead we hear how Yonkers is encroaching on time which should be dedicated to The Red Mile (which normally I would agree with; more about that later).  We hear how the Yonkers race will draw horses which would normally race at Lexington; how drivers may have to choose between New York and Kentucky leaving 'lesser' drivers substituting for their regular drivers; how Yonkers is impacting tradition and so on.

For the last time, let's go over a few things.

Why October 10? - To be a really successful International, not only did the racing department at Yonkers need to worry about the North American stakes calendar, it needed to consult with the UET's stakes calendar as well.  Based on both calendars and allowing for time for the horses to fly in and get acclimated, October 10 was the date chosen  Yes, there may be some impact on Lexington, but that time of year it was going to impact someone.

Why the Afternoon and why not Sunday? -   Yonkers races on Sunday only when PMU takes their races which is when there is a void in the French organization's simulcast calendar.  PMU happened to have a slot on Saturday afternoon (local time) which it could take the signal.  Based on previous experience, as much as an extra $2 million wagered on the Yonkers International and French-style races on the card  can be expected.  Find me one track in North American which wouldn't change their post time if it meant an extra $2 million dollar being wagered on their card.  Race Friday, Saturday night or Sunday, and you will be racing without European money being wagered.

Draw horses off from the Red Mile - It's a possibility.  If like the Internationals in the past, two American and one Canadian horse were invited to race in the International.  Most likely they would be half mile specialists, the type of horse which typically doesn't race well on a mile track though it can't be ruled out a horse may choose Yonkers instead of the second week of the Red Mile meet even though they would probably race during the first week.  Also, Yonkers isn't particularly known for a robust stakes schedule so there will only be the International, some French-style overnights and regular overnight races.  So at most, three, maybe four horses from all of North America may be diverted to Yonkers, some may not even be racing at the Red Mile.

Drivers defecting horses in search of the big purse - Welcome to everyday harness racing.  When there is a stakes race at a Midwest track which may be offering a nice purse but the driver has the opportunity to race in other stakes races back East, the horse often gets a local reinsman,  Quite honestly, I think this is insulting to drivers.  Are there only ten good drivers at the Red Mile Meet with everyone else being chopped liver?  No.  While most drivers at Yonkers don't race on the Grand Circuit, with their purse structure they have, they have drivers who are more than competent to drive a big horse.  It will boil down to the same old story.  Trainers will have a horse racing in Kentucky, another in New York,  They will discuss with their driver which horse they will drive.  If from different stables, one set of owners will be happy, the other not so happy.

Infringing on the Sanctity of the Red Mile - With all do respect, probably the only people who consider The Red Mile's Grand Circuit meet 'sacred' are horsemen, owners, breeders, and those who stand stallions; basically those who stand to benefit from a horses racing well in Lexington for purposes of increasing the value of their horse or stallion.  To the horseplayer, they are just other stakes races.  The handle on their card is anticipated to be about $800k, same as a typical card at Yonkers.

What About the Fan?  - Never entered the equation.  Perhaps if they focused more on this, harness racing would be in better shape.  

So instead of worrying about it's possible negative impact on The Red Mile's card, maybe it would be better if representatives from Yonkers and The Red Mile talk to see if there is a way both cards can be raced for the benefit of both tracks or at least mitigate any impact on each other.  Perhaps by some luck, the horseplayer may come out ahead

We can only hope.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

When Races Collide - Another View

It is most unfortunate the scheduling of The Yonkers International requires it to be contested on Saturday, October 10, the same day of the Kentucky Futurity and other stake races which will be contested at The Red Mile.  Perhaps even more infuriating to some is the fact the International will be part of an afternoon program on a Saturday afternoon.

Some people suggest Yonkers and the SOA have committed a near-treasonous act in competing against The Kentucky Futurity, I see it totally different.  Yonkers has held off officially announcing a date for the International so it could see if an alternative date could be found.  The reality is there is no other day for the International to be contested on.

One must remember in presenting the International, the goal is to present the strongest possible field of foreign and American  participants possible.  After all, for a million dollars, who really wants second or third stringers representing the various countries?  As such, one need to consider not only the North American racing calendar; the European racing calendar must be considered.  The UET Master Series, a series whose final is worth €480,000 is scheduled for September 13, is a series where points are earned by competing in Master Series events all year long (the point total resets to zero after this event).  One can't expect horses who have been competing in the Master Series for a whole year to skip their lucrative final in order to head over to the United States.  As a result, September is not available for scheduling.

Which brings us to October.  October 17 are the Breeders Crown eliminations for older horses while October 24 is when the Crown finals are being contested.  Being foreign horses who win certain races in Europe are eligible to compete in the Crown finals, it makes sense to contest the International at a point where horses may compete in the International and then move on to the Breeders Crown.  You don't want the International to be that far away from the Breeders Crown so a foreign horse remains in racing form.  Hence, we come to October 10.

So why is Yonkers racing in the afternoon?  Couldn't they just as easily race at night which is typical for them?  Well, as the Meadowlands has done, stakes races which have European interest are scheduled to maximize European wagering opportunities. Considering time zone differences, it makes sense to race the International during the daytime.

Race on Friday or Sunday in the afternoon?  Yonkers cards it European-style racing on days when PMU has openings on their calendar.  Without PMU to distribute the signal in Europe, there would be no foreign wagering on the race, not a good use of a million dollar race.

Instead of shooting recriminations against each other, how can The Red Mile and Yonkers cards be best presented so they complement each other instead of competing against each other, making the best of the situation?  One way is for The Red Mile to make the International part of their racing program by importing the signal and to have their own pool while Yonkers takes the Kentucky Futurity and adds it to their program.  This way it can be assured the premiere events from each card don't go head to head against each other's racing program.  Failing that, one track can start earlier than the other and card their premier events so the Futurity and International don't compete against each other?  Other possibilities for working these races must exist.

Too many times the industry turns on itself instead of working together.  Here is an opportunity for it to work together.  Let's see if it takes advantage of the situation to work out a solution which makes the best of an awkward situation..

When Races Collide

by Peter Lawrence, Contributor to VFTRG

I learned about the International Trot's date ...
... Saturday, October 10, several months ago from my European sources.
Remember the storied March of Dimes FFA trot at Garden State Park, so many years ago? I learned of its very existence from the Swedish harness racing magazine *Trav Ronden* way before the event was even announced here in the U.S.; European horsemen and officials are sometimes more in the loop about our racing than we are, obviously.
Anyway, my primary source correctly pointed out that this year's return of the ex-Roosevelt International would conflict not only with the Red Mile Grand Circuit fall meet, but with the day of the Kentucky Futurity itself ... and that Yonkers would be racing the International on a Saturday AFTERNOON card!
For the sake of simulcasting the maybe-big race back to Europe, he said. The "maybe" was my own interpretation.
Unless someone convinces me otherwise, this made-up conflict on the part of Yonkers Raceway seems, in my humble opinion, to be one of the dumbest racing scheduling decisions ever.
If you're trainer Jimmy Takter, with horses like Pinkman, Whom Shall I Fear, and who knows who he'll have that's good in October, going in the Futurity - and Yannick Gingras driving for you in Kentucky - who drives a probable (as of June) Father Patrick in the International?
Maybe drivers like Brian Sears or George Brennan will skip Lexington, and they'll be available?
If it turns out that Sebastian K., the fastest trotter ever, comes back well this year, and is sharp in October, what happens if he's in the International, and, say, Centurion ATM is in the Futurity?
Where does Sebastian's (and Centurion's) trainer Ake Svanstedt drive that afternoon? He rarely uses catch-drivers on his top horses, at least he hasn't so far.
And there will be a great undercard at Lexington that day - as noted, a Saturday - same as we can guess there will be at Yonkers.
I'm not a guy who worries about catch-drivers not having every opportunity to win big purses - if Meadowlands and, say, Yonkers, ironically, have conflicting stakes the same night, drivers can pick one or the other (even though the racing offices generally manage to make it so the drivers can drive in both and double-dip) - but Oct. 10 is an instance where I do think Lexington and Yonkers should both have the best on display ... Campbell, Gingras, Tetrick, Sears, Pierce, the various Millers, Brennan, etc.
But that will be impossible, with the two tracks racing head-to-head, a thousand miles (or whatever it is) away from each other.
I'd hoped - even assumed - since last year, that the return of the International Trot would be on the same Yonkers card as the Yonkers Trot and the Messenger Stakes, which turns out to be Sept. 5.
(By the way, the YR Trot and Messenger themselves conflict with great cards at Mohawk and Pocono, a discussion for another day.)
But, like the wise man says - was it Felix Unger? - if you assume, as I did, you make an ass out of you and me.
P.S. - Probably a dumb question ... but with Yonkers having had such a good run with Sunday afternoon cards for the European betting audience, why not the International Trot on Oct. 11? Makes too much sense, I guess. My pea-sized brain probably wouldn't understand.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Replacing the Triple Crown, Still Misses The Point

This weekend, Harness Racing Update, reported on an effort being led by Myron Bell to supplant the Triple Crown with a quartet of million dollar races for each gait which would have a million dollar plus bonus awaiting any horse able to sweep their respective series.  With the exception of the Little Brown Jug, the qualifying races would be contested over larger tracks, eliminating half mile or five-eighth ovals.  Initially these races would be for three year olds with an eye towards expanding the series so races for two and then four year olds.

While not a done deal, Bell indicates the series is dependent on the Meadowlands getting a casino; something which is far from certain, hence this grandiose plan may not come to fruition.  But for argument sake, let's assume the campaign to get a casino at the Meadowlands is successful.  Will this plan be successful in stimulating harness racing?

With regards to adding horse owners and stimulating yearling prices, leading to increasing foal crops, a quartet of races worth a million dollars alone should attract new owners, owners willing to hit the yearling sales.  With new blood at the sales, it stands to reason yearling prices will experience increases and translate into an increase in breeding (and stallion fees) so it stands to reason breeders and stallion owners will benefit from this proposal.  Of course, if the million dollar stakes series doesn't expand to four year olds, we can expect successful horses heading off to the breeding farms after their three year old season.

So while the concept works behind the scenes, it falls short in its effort to stimulate the product delivered to the consumers  It will be successful as long as slots continue to fund purse accounts; seriously cut or eliminate slot revenue and there would be serious problems.

Million dollar races will likely attract interest though being an industry largely ignored by the media  it is questionable as to how much additional media attention will be derived.  The industry will have to assume primary responsibility to draw potential and lapsed customers in.

Here lies the problem.  While people will be (re)introduced to harness racing, they will still be experiencing the same old sport.  High takeouts, misleading post times, a long learning curve, complex racing conditions, short fields (initially), and small pools (as far as serious horseplayers are concerned) await those attracted by these mega races.  Without fixing the issues which handicappers currently face, it doesn't matter how high the purses are; any initial gain in fans and gamblers will quickly be lost as they experience the same frustrations current horseplayers experience.

Unless the industry tackles the issues which have caused the fan base to drop off, this well-meaning  plan will improve things for breeders and stallion owners as long as slot money is available.  Ignore these underlying issues and the industry of cards remain, one legislative action away from collapse on a state by state basis.

Monday, June 8, 2015

Rocknroll Hanover

The great pacing stallion Rocknroll Hanover passed on March 14, 2013 at a clinic in New Jersey, after showing signs of gastric distress at a Perretti satellite site in Pennsylvania. He was only eleven-years-old.  The son of Western Ideal and Rich N Elegant, who brought $190,000 at Harrisburg, had won 15 races and earned $2.7 million during his two-year career.

Rocknroll stood his first season at Perretti Farms in New Jersey in 2006 for a $15,000 stud fee. He drew 189 mares, resulting in 151 registered foals in 2007. These included his richest son, Rock N Roll Heaven, and his richest and fastest daughter, Put On A Show. The former is sending his second crop to the races after getting mixed results from the first, while POAS has been retired and bred to Somebeachsomewhere. Their first filly will sell at Lexington Selected this year.

Others from that initial offering include millionaires Rock N Soul and Ticket To Rock, as well as Tobago Cays, Classic Rock NRoll and Valentino. Rockin Image, who is making a name for himself as a sire in Indiana, via his son Freaky Feet Pete and others, was also from that crop.

The venerable race mare Rocklamation came from Rocknroll’s second crop, as did Pretty Katherine, but there were no great fillies of colts in that offering. The import Foreclosure N earned the most of any in the stallion ranks. Other standouts were Rollwithitharry, Abelard Hanover and Fat Man’s Alley. As is often the case, the second crop was disappointing when measured against the first.

Foreclosure bred 33 mares in Ohio in 2013, resulting in 20 registered foals. He raced eight times in the fall of that year, so the stallion experiment was apparently concluded for now. Roclamation was bought back at the Tattersalls Mixed sale by two of her owners but failed to get in foal, so she’s back racing with little success.

A Rocknroll Dance and Pet Rock, both world record holders at four, put a charge in crop number three. The former won the Pace and banked $1.8 million at two and three, while Pet Rock earned about a million dollars at three. The competition for supremacy in that division was fierce. Breeders Crown winner Heston Blue Chip won the Dan Patch Award; Michaels Power took the Jug; Thinking Out Loud won the Cup and Sweet Lou took the Tattersalls Pace.

ARNRD and Pet Rock both blossomed at four. Pet Rock, who stands in Ohio, set records in the Winbak at Delaware—1:48.1—and the Ewart at Scioto—1:47.2—in successive weeks. Dance, who now stands in Pennsylvania was the first to put three sub 1:48 wins together. Both were very well received in the stallion ranks. Pet Rock bred 137 mares last year, while A Rocknroll Dance bred 139.

Panther Hanover, who won the New Jersey Classic in 1:47.2, is another speed demon from that class. The son of the successful race mare Panned Out has not mimicked the popularity of his paternal brothers. He bred nine mares in New York last year.

Simply Business, Time To Roll and Rockaround Sue are a few more from the third crop.

I Luv The Nitelife came along the following year. She set world records at two and three and won more money during that stretch than any filly ever had. Nitelife was retired last season and sold to Diamond Creek Farm.

By 2010 Rocknroll Hanover was standing for $20,000, and he went to $25,000 in 2011. As was the case with just about every stallion, the economic downturn required an adjustment. And the upheaval in New Jersey regarding the viability of The Meadowlands compounded the problem for the folks at Perretti. His fee was dropped to $15,000 in 2012 and that’s where it was when he passed the following year.

Crop number five, the horses that are now four-year-olds, didn’t overwhelm anyone at the top end, at least while they were colts and fillies. There were 149 registered, 67 colts and 82 fillies. Their collective earnings were down considerably from those that preceded them.

At the same time, Rocknroll is currently second to Bettor’s Delight among all-age pacers, with 355 starters showing more than $5 million in earnings. Last year he was also second to Bettor’s Delight, with 446 earning well over $13 million. So the hundreds of low profile, journeyman Rocknrolls are killing it year after year at tracks all over North America. Almost two hundred of them have eclipsed the $100 mark.

Some are coming alive at four. Rockeyed Optimist, who has won 9 of 10 starts this year, including wins in the finals of the Sonsam Series and the Clyde Hirt, is one of them. Over the weekend he came first up at the half and beat Cup winner JK Endofanera and Jug winner Limelight Beach in a split of the Graduate for Tim Tetrick.

Doo Wop Hanover, who paid $64 when he won his two-year-old Breeders Crown elimination at Pocono Downs, and who recently won the first leg of the Graduate in a track record 1:47.4 at Tioga, took another Graduate split on Saturday as he ran down All Bets Off, again for Tetrick. He matched his paternal brother’s 1:48 winning time.

Of this year’s sophomore class, Happiness, a sister to Pangiorno, won the Reynolds for Ron Burke and has been one of the top fillies in the NJSS. Rock N Roll World, a son of two-time division champ Worldly Beauty and a brother to World Of Rocknroll, was second in high-end races five times this year, before finishing third in the Rooney. He’s staked to the Cup. And Hurrikane Ali is another promising colt.

Obviously Rocknroll hasn’t had time to prove himself as a productive broodmare sire, but it’s hard to imagine that not being the case. Rocknroll Hanover mares offer enticing outcross opportunities to Somebeachsomwhere. More than two dozen such foals have been registered. And stallions from the Adios line are also a good fit for his mares: there are already 20 by Art Major and eight by Sportswriter.

Adios line stallion McArdle has produced last year’s sophomore division champ McWicked as well as his richest daughter, Big McDeal, with Western Ideal mares. And three-time Molson winner, State Treasurer (Real Artist), is out of one of his mares.

There are also good opportunities for stallions from the Meadow Skipper line: Bettor’s Delight has sired 17, Well Said seven and Dragon Again eight. And there are three by Shadyshark Hanover and one by Custard The Dragon.

The world’s reigning expert on Rocknroll, Bob Marks, sees matching up the sons of Most Happy Fell as the key to it all. We’ve had a run of great pacing fillies lately, and three of the best, See You At Peelers, American Jewel and I Luv The Nitelife, all follow this template. Their sires are Bettor’s Delight, American Ideal and Rocknroll, respectively. Their dams are by Western Ideal, Camluck and Camluck again.

Badlands Hanover is by Western Hanover and out of a Tyler B mare. BC winner and top tier player in the NA Cup, Traceur Hanover, is by Western Ideal and out of a Camluck mare. Heston Blue Chip is by Rocknroll’s paternal brother American Ideal and out of a Cam’s Card Shark mare. While FFA speedball Shark Gesture is a son of Cam’s Card Shark out of a Western Hanover mare. All of them go back to MHF top and bottom.

Many significant stallions have passed early: Meadow Skipper’s sire Dale Frost passed at 17 after breaking a leg; Skipper’s most influential siring son, Most Happy Fella, also passed at 17 after breaking a leg. Billy Direct died of heart trouble at age 13. Noble Gesture, who died from a heart attack at age 13 in 1981, saw his son Balanced Image carry him into the 21st century, and his granddaughter, Feeling Great, produce Self Possessed, the granddad of Father Patrick.

Rocknroll left enough pieces to extend himself, top and bottom. That speed and grit we saw from Doo Wop Hanover and Rockeyed Optimist on Saturday night should be in evidence from the sons and daughters of Rocknroll Heaven, Rockin Image, A Rocknroll Dance, Pet Rock and all the rest well into the future.

Joe FitzGerald

Sunday, June 7, 2015

The Gural Law is Coming?

Sometimes it seems people connected to the standardbred industry are determined to destroy the sport from within.

We all have heard of the Gural rule, is it time to get ready for the Gural Law?.  According to Harness Racing Update, New York State Assemblyman Pretlow is proposing a law which would give any horseman banned by a track the right to have a hearing in front of the NYGC which will then have the ability to lift any ban by the track operator.  Call me cynical, but I can't help but think the Assemblyman's statement was written with Jeff Gural in mind and someone besides the Assemblyman wrote the statement and bill.  After all, the tone of the statement reminds me of some press releases we have seen in the past.

I may be wrong but it seem to me this bill was submitted at the behest of horsemen through their association(s).  While I have a problem with the bill because it takes away the private property rights of track owners in favor of horsemen, if it is necessary to modify the private property rights of track management, I would like to propose a compromise which protects the interests of all involved.

Under my proposal, prior to each meet, track management would publish a list of 'offenses' which would be grounds for exclusion.  If a person is excluded, they would be afforded a hearing but as long as the track operator can document the person did violate one of the conditions the track has designated as an exclusionary offense, the commission must uphold the exclusion (the burden on the horsemen to show why the exclusion should be lifted), provided it is shown exclusions under this offense are being handled consistently.  If excluded for another reason, the commission will uphold the exclusion only if it could be shown it was not retaliatory (the burden on the track to show why the exclusion should be upheld),.  This would protect the track operator's private property rights but protect horsemen from arbitrary banishment.  Being the track operator is being forced to give a reason where in the past no reason needed to be disclosed, the track operator should be immune from civil liability for having to reveal their reasons for exclusion as long as they abide by any commission decision.

The current proposed bill would undermine the ability of track operators to ensure they are providing the best racing product integrity-wise.  While I agree horsemen shouldn't be banished because a track operator just feels like it, they must be able to exclude people they feel are jeopardizing their business by their actions.  Hence should any bill be proposed, it must protect everyone's interests.

Of course, the proper forum for addressing this issue is not in the legislature but at the negotiating table when the horsemen are negotiating their next contract with management.

Being this bill was no doubt written with input from some horseman group(s), one can say "We have met the enemy and it is us".  It seems some people are determined to frustrate anything Jeff Gural is attempting to do even at his own tracks.  I suggest if people don't like the way he runs his tracks they race elsewhere or better yet, put their money where their mouth is and open their own track and run it the way they want.

It seems harness racing is finally starting to look a little like thoroughbred racing with regards to North American and European horses racing on each other's shores.  Maven, Creatine, Nuncio, are the more prominent American horses now racing campaigns in Europe.  We have Sebastian K who moved to the States to race and he will be joined by two other Europeans, Elittlopp winner Magic Tonight and stablemate D'One, who plan to race in North America from August through the Breeders Crown.

There is no reason why the best of each continent shouldn't do battle across the pond, the purse money is there.  Hopefully, this is a precursor to a widespread distribution of international signals for wagering purposes.  Regardless of where wagers are made, profitability is going to come from volume of wagers, so the more wagering opportunities fans have the better it will be for the tracks.

We would be remiss if we didn't offer our congratulations to thoroughbred racing's Triple Crown Champion, American Pharoah after his strong win in the Belmont Stakes.  Although off a little bit slow, Pharoah went to the front and controlled the pace.  In the stretch he opened up, winning the race by 5 1/2 lengths.

Some people claim American Pharoah went up against an inferior crop and that may be the case but even if true, you can't fault the horse for who showed up to the dance. Inferior crop or not, the horse won the 1 1/2 mile race in 2:26 3/5, the sixth fastest Belmont Stakes ever, the record holder being Secretariat.

Instead of heading off to the farm, plans are for him to continue racing this year before heading off to the breeding shed.  Could you imagine what it would do for racing if there was a 'Gural' rule in thoroughbred racing and American Pharoah returned to race at four?  Racetracks would be mobbed whenever he raced.  Alas, fans of the runners need to be happy to know this champion will be racing the rest of the year.

Saturday, June 6, 2015

No NJ Referendum in 2015?; Illinois Screeching to a Halt?

If the reports are to be believed, the chances for a casino referendum in 2015 for New Jersey is on life support if not already dead. reports not only was there a loud argument between North and South Democratic legislative leaders, but political boss George Norcross III and Senate President Sweeney are worried about a casino referendum changing the dynamics of the state Senate's leadership which is currently under the control of South Jersey interests.  The chances of the dynamics changing so Senator Sweeney will agree to post a referendum bill in the Senate continues to get less likely, especially as new proposals are proposed daily.

The latest proposal, by Senator Pennacchio (R) would get rid of the idea of full casinos in North Jersey and offer racinos at racetracks instead.  The proposal (SCR-123) would dedicate the state's share for state pension obligations and rescuing Atlantic City.  For horse racing?  Nada. The resolution proposes the racinos being run by a consortium of Atlantic City casinos.

But horse racing interests fear not, for the interpretative statement speaks of the 'benefit' horse racing would get.

The operation of slot machines at horse racetracks would be mutually beneficial to both the casino industry and the horse racing industry. Racetrack slot machine gambling would provide an opportunity for casino industry operators to expand beyond the boundaries of Atlantic City and reach patrons who may not otherwise consider traveling to that city to engage in gambling activities. For the racetrack industry, the slot machines would increase attendance, drawing patrons who may not otherwise consider traveling to racetracks at which horse racing is the sole activity on which to wager....

Needless to say, experience shows us that those who show up at a racino to play the slots will most likely stay in the slot section an fail to visit the horse racing side while  horse players will avail themselves of the slots in addition to playing the horses.  Also, nothing in this proposal guarantees horsemen a percentage of the slot revenue (it's safe to assume the tracks will get paid for housing the slots).

Lastly, Pennacchio suggests this would match NJ racinos against NY racinos, but this neglects the fact both Yonkers and Aqueduct will be coming full-service casisnos onces NY's moratorium on Southern New York casinos expires.  This would put the racinos behind the eight ball.  A responsible gaming proposal would recognize the fact full casinos will be coming just outside of New York City and not put NJ in the position to need a new referendum within a decade to catch up.

Bottom line, a proposal not worthy of horse racing's support.

Meanwhile, in Illinois, it looks like there may be a stoppage of harness racing come July 1 as the contract between horsemen and Balmoral/Maywood expires on June 30.  With so many moving pieces, it would be hard to come to a new contract without knowing the parameters you are dealing with; the best bet would be for extending the contract until things become clearer.    The issues which muddle things:

  • The riverboats and the tracks must reach an agreement by June 29, otherwise the tracks will be officially put up for sale.
  • The possibility of slots coming to the racetracks is up for discussion as part of the budget process.  While there is supposed support for such a bill, Prairie State horsemen have heard that before only to see it go down to defeat or not be voted on.
It's kind of hard to reach a contract when you don't know where (if) you will be racing and what the revenue sources for purses will come from.  Things will certainly be interesting in the next three weeks.