For photos from the Meadowlands contact

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Magic Tonight and D'One are qualified ...

by Peter Lawrence, VFTRG Contributor

"Oh, so you only visit us when there's a good horse in our barn?" said Marcus Johansson, a week ago Friday.

He said this (presumably) in jest, since he and wife Nancy Takter Johansson, proprietors of Team Johansson, currently have the reigning Horse of the Year, J.K. She'salady, in their shedrow.

But he had a point, we concede.

This WAS my first visit to the Johansson stable at White Birch Farm in New Jersey, and it was two trotters recently arrived from Sweden - well, recently arrived from quarantine in Maryland, after arriving from Sweden - I was specifically there to see.

One was Magic Tonight 1:52-1/5f ($1,344,081), winner of this year's Elitloppet at Solvalla in Sweden.

The other was D'One ($889,185), the daughter of two champions who both took world records of 1:50-1/5 on the very same day at Lexington, Kentucky's famed Red Mile in 2007, namely Donato Hanover and Giant Diablo (she by Supergill).

Trainer of record for Magic Tonight and D'One - who, if things work out as planned and hoped, will both campaign in North America until this autumn's Breeders Crowns - is Roger Walmann, but they'll be residing with Marcus and Nancy for the next several months.

A few brief notes on Roger Walmann ...

He races mostly in Sweden, despite being Norwegian, has been to the United States many times and has won several big races here, including the 1986 Roosevelt International Trot with Habib, the 2012 Breeders Crown mares trot with Tamla Celeber S., and the aforementioned world-record with Giant Diablo in that year's Allerage FFA.

The first stakes on Magic Tonight's and D'One's respective plates are both on Hambletonian Day at the Meadowlands, Saturday, Aug. 8, the John Cashman Jr. free-for-all trot and the Fresh Yankee mares FFA trot.

But before that, they needed to qualify, which they both did, in rein to Marcus Johansson, at Meadowlands this past Saturday.

Magic Tonight finished third, trotting in 1:54, home in :26-4/5, in a 1:53 mile won by Lindy's Tru Grit. (Interestingly, Wind Of The North, who also raced in this year's Elitlopp, finished second.)

D'One de-won her heat (sorry, couldn't resist) in 1:54-3/5, home in :27-1/5, by open lengths.

"Both were very impressive," says Marcus, who added, "I just raced them both conservatively."

It's expected that Orjan Kihlstrom - also no stranger to our shores; he won last year's Breeders Crown Open Trot at M'lands with Commander Crowe - will drive these Walmann trotters on Hambo Day, and beyond.

Will both horses be ready for top efforts in their U.S. debuts? Don't know, but it should be interesting to watch.

Notes ...

Magic Tonight (Andover Hall-Miss Possessed by Self Possessed), a 6YO horse, started his racing career in the U.S. before being exported in 2013. He earned almost $500,000 stateside, with a 1:52-4/5f mark racing for Adam Victor & Son and trainer Noel Daley. He was bred by the familiar pair of Marvin Katz & Al Libfeld, and he's owned by AOJ Konsult of Lidkoping, Sweden. Magic Tonight's groom is Viktor Flink Ideborn.

D'One, a 5YO mare conceived and foaled in the U.S., was bred by Thomas Persson Finans AB. She races for Stall Kenny (Kenny Thornblom, et al), and her groom is Malin Boman-Friberg. D'One has never started in the U.S., with the exception of her qualifying race.

And finally, J.K. She'salady, last year's undefeated Horse of the Year for the training Johanssons (and unrelated caretaker Lena Johansson)? According to Marcus, she's on the shelf, "With some small issues. We're going to take our time bringing her back."

Peter Lawrence's photo.
(Photo of the author, holding Magic Tonight, by Marcus Johansson.)

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Productive New Pacing Stallions

Some of the new sires from the class of pacers born in 2008 have been experiencing early success in the various sire stakes programs in the US and Canada. Roll With Joe, who we looked at in a recent piece, is the top sire of two-year-old pacers in New York. Shadyshark Hanover is turning heads in Indiana. And Big Bad John and Big Jim are drawing attention to themselves in Ohio and Ontario, respectively.

Shadyshark Hanover was very fast; the full brother to Sharky Osborne, who brought $90,000 at Harrisburg, won the Holmes in a track record 1:47.3 over Hugadragon, Roll With Joe and Big Jim. That was the fastest race mile of the year for his class. However, this was his only open stakes win at three, and the Nassagaweya was his only open stakes win at two. Although he did set a track record for his class at Pocono in his freshman BC elimination.  He won six time in 28 lifetime starts, primarily eliminations and consolations. One could compare him to his speedy paternal brother from the following crop, Hurrikane Kingcole, who, despite his vaunted speed, wears the Nassagaweya as his only open stakes win.

The strapping son of Cam’s Card Shark stands for $3,000 in Indiana. His current class consists of 88 registered foals, a figure that will be cut in half next year. His top performer is the chestnut filly, Ginger Shark, who is four for four in the ISS, and crushed the field in Friday’s $75,000 final. Another Shadyshark filly, Shady Caroline, was second in that race. She has won twice and banked almost $40,000. The fillies are ahead of the colts right now.

Shadyshark is tenth on the two-year-old earnings list, ahead of Dragon Again, Bettor’s Delight and Rock N Roll Heaven. And he ranks twelfth in average earnings per foal, ahead of Well Said and Rocknroll Hanover. With that crop reduction to 43 next year, let’s hope we don’t see the same break in momentum that has been evident this year with fellow Hoosier Always A Virgin.

Big Bad John, a smooth going $130,000 Lexington Selected purchase from the last crop of Western Hanover, won 7 of 9 relatively soft starts at two, including splits of the Bluegrass and ISS, and he took the Jug at three, when he won 11 times. He was no factor in division voting at two and got only six percent of the vote the following year. John raced in a $12,000 open at Pompano in January as a four-year-old in order to eclipse the million dollar mark in earnings. BBJ was higher on the pecking order than Shadyshark, but he was well below Roll With Joe, who earned $1.8 million and received 85% of the Dan Patch votes cast.

Overall, Big Bad John, whose stud fee jumped $1,000 to $5,000 in 2015, ranks second only to SBSW on the earnings list, with 73 starters banking more than $500,000. He’s third in the average earnings per foal category, a testament to the regeneration of the Ohio program as well as his own promise as a stallion. Friday night Virgil Morgan’s colt, Primo Giovanni, won a $40,000 split of the OHSS at Northfield in 1:55.2. Saturday night the filly Big Bad Ashley engineered a very strong wire to wire win in 1:54.2 in another OHSS split at Scioto. And Queen Ann M made a three deep brush to the top into the last turn for Chris Page, after starting from the nine post, and won another split in 1:55 at odds of 3/5.

Big Jim scored more than 95% of the Dan Patch votes as a freshman after finishing up with dominating wins in the Breeders Crown and Governors Cup. He was viewed as a blossoming star as he entered his sophomore campaign. Unfortunately, this did not come to pass, as he earned more than $700,000 in an abbreviated ten race season, but had no open stakes wins.

Jim has been standing for $4,000 after opening at $5,000. He faces the same sort of momentum issues as his brethren: this crop consists of 73 foals, but next year there will only be 41. The median price for his yearlings was only $15,750: 40 averaged $24,000. The paternal brother of Rocknroll and American Ideal can obviously pump up those numbers over the next couple of months.

Monday night at Grand River his daughter Tempus Seelster won an elimination for the Battle Of The Belles in 1:56.1 as the second choice for Travis Henry. Another daughter, Bold Amoretto, from the millionaire Artsplace mare, Armbro Amoretto, was second in another split and made the final. And the black gelding Magnum J took a Battle Of Waterloo split. There will be two in the Belles final and one in the Waterloo.

A quick mention is also due another paternal brother of Big Jim, who is sending his first crop to the races in Ontario, Vintage Master. Tony Alagna’s filly, Thatsoveryverynice, set an OSS record when she crushed a field of her peers in 1:51.2 for Jody Jamieson recently at Mohawk. There are only 47 freshmen by double-millionaire Vintage Master, but they bear watching.

Joe FitzGerald


Mission Brief Takes on the Boys

Mission Brief's connections have made the decision to take on the colts in the Hambleotnian instead of racing in the Hambletonian Oaks where she would have been 1-9 to win the Oaks and collect the $250,000 winner's share of the purse .

What made Ron Burke and the owners decide to take on the boys in the Hambletonian and go up against the Takter Juggernaut, a quintet of trotters which will be entered into the race?  Is it a case of sportsmanship or mere foolishness?  After all, the last filly to win the Hambletonian was Peace Corps back in 1996.

While the Hambletonian is a heat race, with the top finishers of the first heat returning for the final, one may assume the Takter quintet is likely to scare off plenty of potential starters so there is a good chance there will be one dash for the cash as it takes fourteen horses to go with eliminations.   If the race goes as a single heat, a second place finish in the Hambo has the same purse value as winning the Oaks and third place would pay $120,000, not a small amount of change.  If the race goes to eliminations, it is possible some off the quintet will be eliminated before the final, improving her chances in the final.

Let's not kid ourselves, the money machine known as the Ron Burke stable can afford to be sportsmen in this case, as it was said by Burke, $250,000 is nice but winning the Hambo will mean something more to the stable, a sense of legitimacy which having a Hambletonian winner will bring.  While a very successful operation, there has always been whispers regarding how his stable has operated.

Regardless how the Hambletonian plays out, Mission Brief brings more excitement to the run up to the big race.  It will be interesting to how this gamble pays off.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

A big "Grattis" and happy 70th birthday ...

by Peter Lawrence, Contributor to VFTRG

... to the great Swedish trainer-driver "Stig Ho," Stig H. Johansson, a European harness horse business legend, who is well-known here in North America, too.

Stig H. Johansson, Photo credit Travronden
(And look, he's smiling in this recent photo! What next, countrymate Berndt Linstedt laughing? Swedish stoicism is not to be trifled with.)

Where to start on SHJ's accomplishments? Stig H.'s top horses have included, but are by no means limited to The Onion, Utah Bulwark, Napolitano, Peace Corps, Gum Ball and my personal favorite, Victory Tilly (all winners of the Elitlopp trotting classic, by the way), the latter of whom wowed us at the Meadowlands with a win in the 2002 Nat Ray (now, John Cashman) FFA in 1:50-4/5.

That would be a very fast time now, and it was accomplished 13 years ago!

Stig H. also won the prestigious Prix d'Amerique trot at Vincennes, France with Queen L. In 1993.

Still active as a trainer, SHJ retired from driving in 2005. His first driving win, and his last - in, respectively, 1963 and 2005 - both were recorded at Solvalla in Sweden, a track where he was leading driver 29 times, including 27 straight years.

Stig H. has 6,222 driving wins, and more than 7,000 training wins.

So again "Grattis" and happy 70th birthday to Stig Henry Johansson!

(Note: Statistics courtesy of Wikipedia and the SHJ website, plus the writer's feeble remembrances.)

Playing Favorites?

Chuck Sylvester has been hit with a positive for Cobalt.  While the veteran trainer doesn't know how this happened, he understands as the trainer of record, he has to take responsibility as the State of Pennsylvania has handed him a 15 day suspension and a $500 fine held in abeyance until the results of the split sample came back.

The question some may ask is assuming the split sample comes back positive, what happens to the veteran trainer with respect to the tracks operated by Jeff Gural?  After all he trains two horses for Gural.

Well, if you subscribe to what the anti-Gural voices say, those who claim his policies are arbitrary and he plays favorites, life will go on and this positive will just get shoved under the carpet.

Guess what?  Jeff Gural has already said if the split sample comes back positive, Sylvester will become persona non grata at the three tracks.operated by Gural..  In addition the two horses Sylvester trains for Gural will be sent to another trainer.

What is that about playing favorites with regards to drug positives?

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Zweig Memorial Spotlight

On Sunday afternoon, three year old trotters are competing, hoping to show their owners they belong behind the starting gate in next week's Hambletonian Oaks eliminations or the following week's Hambleotnian for the boys.  For others, this week is their Hambletonian experience in the the Dr Harry M. Zweig Memorial Trot and Filly Trot.

Here is my review of the two races plus a consolation event for colts and geldings.  All horses will be listed in post position order.

3rd Trot - $76,000; Zweig Memorial Trot Consolation - 3yo
1 - Muscle Diamond (Campbell, 8-1) - Well regarded horse who has run into issues keeping him of the track. Cam he show a big effort here?  Most likely short and landing a share best chance
2 - Fashion Creditor (Sears, 3-1) - Okay in lower level events but has failed thus far in big event.  A pass for me.
3- Uncle Hanover (Ackerman, 8-1) - Improving horse whose best effort came in low level Landmark stakes. Expect improvement here.
4 - Total Darkness (Gingras, 2-1) - Goes from 86-1 in last to favorite here.  Showed a big finish in lasts effort besides outside post an parked half a mile.  The one to beat but worth the wager at expected odds?  Your call?
5 - Iron (Tetrick, 5-1) - Class of the field but often self destructs.  Your guess which way he goes.
6 - Tidquist (Long, 10-1) - Solid in lower level classifieds but fails against NYSS.  Doesn't seem up to it,
7 - Dapper Don (B Miller, 9-2) - Been going good and earned promotion.  Will be a factor here.
Selections: 4-7-3-1

6th Trot - $185,000; Zweig Memorial Filly Trot - 3yo Fillies (No Show Wagering)
  3 -Lock Down Lindy (Tetrick, 5-1) - No chance in last,  Must use early speed to get into contention,
  4 -Concentration (Lems, 10-1) - Some success in NYSS but appears to be tailing off.
  5 - She Glides (Bartlett, 6-1) - Early season sensation but note trainer's UTR.  Your guess here,;
  1 - Gatka Hanover (B Miller, 9-5) - Jumped off last two stakes and winless this year,
1A - Mission Brieif (Gingras, 9-5) - Last chance to show she belongs in Hambletonian.  Clearly the best here on on paper.
  6 - Sweet Thing (Merton, 8-1) - Loves second place.  Went well until met stakes company.  Can upset this field.
  2 -Wild Honey (Campbell, 2-1) - Rounding into form.  Major challenger.
2A -Magic Marker (Sears, 2-1) - Don't see. Pass.
1B - I'm So Fancy (Dube, 9-5) - Different horse since adding hopples.  Won PA-sired event and may land a share h/ere,
Selections: 1A-6-2

9th Trot - $370,000; Zweig Memorial Trot - 3yo (No Show Wagereing)
  2 - Workout Wonder (Dube, 6-1) - Draws rail and must get involved early. Likely to tire late.
  3 - Boots N Chains (Bartlett, 8-1) - Best efforts in overnights but has drawn poorly in stakes.  May sneak in to the exotics.
  4 - Royal Decepter (Mc Givern, 10-1) - Being tested for class.  Suspect in too deep here.
  1 - Uncle Lasse (B Miller, 9-5) -  Part of strong Takter entry.  Will be a serious threat here.
1A - Canepa Hanover (Takter, 9-5) - Made move in Dancer Memorial and was passed in stretch.
  5  - Wings Of Royalty (Tetrick, 5-1) - Another one tested for class.  Should pass test and land share.
1B - Pinkman (Gingras, 9-5) - Obvious choice in race.  Winner of two straight looks to make it three.  Will go lower than 9-5.
  6 - Habitat (Sears, 2-1) -  Fast charging in Dancer to miss by neck.  Expect similar move here. Considering likely odds of fave, is my play.
1C - Who Shall I Fear (Campbell, 9-5) - Weakest of entry.  Looking to grab a share with luck.
Selections: 6-1B-1-5

Virginia Standardbreds Head to Oak Ridge

The  standardbred industry in Virginia has decided to run it's 2015 meet at Oak Ridge in Nelson County, VA as we previously reported.  Depending on how this year's meet of four days (Oct. 10-11, 17-18) is received it is possible Oak Ridge may be the future home for the foreseeable future. 

There is no news as to whether wagering will be conducted this year.

Friday, July 24, 2015

PRESS RELEASE: SBOANJ President Tom Luchento Comments on the Closing of Showplace Farms

Standardbred Breeders & Owners Association of New Jersey President Tom Luchento has issued this statement/letter on the news that Showplace Farms is closing:

It started with a four paragraph announcement, and it sent shockwaves through the racing industry in New Jersey.

On July 23, 2015, Showplace Farms in Millstone, NJ announced that after 36 years in business, it would be closing its doors on October 1, 2015.

Showplace is 140 acres of prime real estate on Route 33.  When it opened nearly four decades ago, it reflected the health of the standardbred racing industry in New Jersey, thanks to the debut of the Meadowlands Racetrack in 1976. 

Showplace, home to more than 425 horses, was a new concept: a first-class training center with its own track, state-of-the-art barns, a swimming pool for rehabilitating horses, and fenced in pastures for grazing. 

It would be the inspiration for other training centers throughout Central New Jersey where horsemen would pay for the privilege to house their racehorses in pastoral Monmouth County rather than free stabling at the Meadowlands. 

New Jersey horsemen, however, have fallen on hard times, competing against the casino-fueled purses in surrounding states.  It is making it more difficult for Showplace and other training centers to collect rent and make their businesses viable.  Meanwhile, the racetracks – including Freehold and the Meadowlands – have torn down their barn areas, leaving many horsemen without stabling options.

In a matter of months, the bulldozers will be demolishing Showplace Farms, and it will not be long before other training centers and breeding farms will be following their example.  These farms will soon be shopping malls and housing developments.

Until now, the owners of the farms and training centers were willing to gamble on the future of New Jersey racing, believing that the addition of gaming at the Meadowlands would raise the purses and justify the risks.

However, the failure of our leadership in Trenton to put the question of North Jersey gaming on this year’s ballot has been the last straw for Showplace Farms, and perhaps others to follow.

“It has been a good run,” said Bix DiMeo, general manager of Showplace, in the announcement of closure.  “But with fewer horses racing and the current economic climate here in New Jersey for harness racing, this business model no longer works for us.”

For anyone in the state legislature and the governor’s office who thought racing’s leadership was crying wolf – well, the impending closure of Showplace Farms on the heels of the dismantling of the 1,000-acre Perretti Farms in Cream Ridge seem to suggest that instead of crying wolf, the wolf is at the door.

This is an industry that represents thousands of your friends and neighbors, who could go from taxpayers to unemployed in a heartbeat. 

If the racing industry in the Garden State were to fail, it goes beyond track ownership and track employees.  Its demise would trickle down to the veterinarians, hay and grain growers, blacksmiths, horse transport companies, and others who make their living in some fashion off the racing and breeding industries.  This is a billion-dollar industry in jeopardy, a meaningful source of revenue to the state’s economy.

Unless New Jerseyans want to see our farmland, of which 20 percent is equine-related, paved over, we need Trenton to step up and bring gaming to the Meadowlands now.

Thomas Luchento
President of the Standardbred Breeders & Owners Association of New Jersey

Manalapan, NJ

Indiana Implements Fair Start Rule, Who (if there is) is Next?

Indiana has implemented the fair start rule  (page 4), giving protection to the horseplayer for the first time in an American state.  The fair start rule is a step in improving the product which Murray Brown of Hanover Shoe Farms, once said sucks.

The question is which state, if there is a state, will be next?  New Jersey considered a fair start rule which seemingly went through the slow-track and when it finally reached the NJRC for adoption was defeated as they found every excuse to over complicate things in order to vote against the proposal,  no doubt with the approval of racetracks and horsemen who feared the return of money to the players, losing the small amount in commission.

The Fair Start  Rule is the first test to see if people are seriously looking to improve the product.  If states are looking to improve the product they should take the Indiana rule and implement it promptly, as soon as possible.

The horseplayer is waiting to see who acts next.  In the meanwhile, Indiana will be my 'go to' state when looking for racing action.

Joe Gerrity Memorial Spotlight

Saturday night, Saratoga Raceway is presenting the 7th annual Joe Gerrity Memorial Pace with a purse of $260,000.  The Gerrity Memorial selects its field by picking the horses with the highest earnings this year from those who entered.  They have assembled a nice field of pacers so let's take a look at the field.

Saratoga 7th Pace - $260,000; Joe Gerrity Memorial Pace
1 - Micheal's Power (Aldrich, 6-1) - Last race in high level conditioned pace at Meadowlands suggests he may be returning to form.  Despite the rail position, this field may still be too good for him.  Share at best.
2 - Dancin Yankee (Morrill, 5-2)  - Winner of Franklin Consolation (had post 8 in elim).  Finished 5th (DH) in marquee aged pace at Meadowlands.  Has good post to succeed.  Deserved favoritism.
3 - Scott Rocks (Bouchard, 8-1) - Shows a win over a half mile oval.  Oakes (oops, Peterson) trainee will give it a shot.  Suspect will come up short.
4 - P H Supercam (Bartlett, 4-1) - Winner last week at the Old Hilltop, May land share but don't see as a winner.
5 - Luck Be Withyou (Macdonald, 3-1) - Winner of Franklin and second place finish in Haughton.  Is the hot horse who must be respected.
6 - Doctor Butch (Lachance, 12-1) - Toscano trainee returns to half mile oval which is his specialty.  Expect improvement and worth a look at 12-1.
7 - All Bets Off (Kakaley 9-2) - Draws post seven but has been just a step away in most events.  Can't ignore.
8 - Domethatagain (Dobson, 10-1) - Death post assignment suggests this one is a toss,
Selections:  6-2-7-5

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Evidence the Bleeding in New Jersey is Continuing

Showplace Farms in New Jersey, one of the preeminent training facilities has announced it is throwing in the towel and closing, effective October 1.  Showplace was the first major training facility in New Jersey just down the road from Freehold Raceway.  With the close of Showplace, it is clear New Jersey harness racing is still in decline.

A new  race fixing scandal has resulted in three arrests.  What harness track did this happen at you ask?  None.  Three jockeys in Louisiana have been arrested for allegedly fixing a race at Evangeline Downs..  In addition to the race fixing charge, two of the jockeys were charged and accussed with using a buzzer on their horses on two different occasions.

So the next time someone tells you harness racing is fixed, make sure you mention this case to them.  The truth is sadly regardless of the type of racing it is, on occasion someone may decide to cheat in order to cash a ticket.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Harness Racing at Hazel Park?

Over at Hazel Park Raceway (still called a raceway?), track management and thoroughbred horsemen spent purse money like a drunk during this meet, spending an extra $24,000 a night.  Perhaps they thought additional spending on purses would improve their product and the excess would be made up in handle, but regardless of their reason they have dropped the last 10 days of their meet because they ran out of money in the purse account.

But of more interest is there is $1 million available for standardbred horsemen in their purse account if an agreement between standardbred horsemen and management can be reached.  My question is why haven't the standardbred horsemen asked for this money to be transferred to Northville Downs which is still hosting harness racing?  Perhaps both sides see an eventual compromise to their disagreement and the resumption of harness racing at Hazel Park?

They aren't going to make things easy for Jeff Gural are they?  The Lagos casino (to be built) and Senaca County have suggested the NYSGC adopt a 90 mile exclusionary zone statewide for casinos to avoid competition.  Just so happens Tioga Downs falls within this zone at 86 miles.  No doubt coincidence?  Of course not.  Personally, I don't think the state will adopt such a policy as downstate, the two most logical places for casinos, Aqueduct Racetrack and Yonkers Raceway are certainly far closer than 90 miles so it could cause problems down the road for the state. But still, you never know what could happen.  If Lagos is so worried about competition, why did they apply for a license in Tyre, near Indian Casinos and instead apply for a license in the Southern Tier proper rather than a location where competition already exists?

Prairie Meadows was given a lecture by their most successful owner that they needed to advertise more if they want racing to succeed to which she was told the facility spends $200,000 or 60% of their advertising budget on racing.  Well, I am not sure what $200,000 gets you in advertising in Iowa, but based on their results, it goes to show you spending money on advertising for advertising sake is worthless, you need to think about your campaign.  By the waay, Prairie Meadows has not committed to racing past 2019 when their contract ends.

Monday, July 20, 2015

A Look At How Drivers Are Faring At Mid-July 2015

I took a look at how a number of drivers are measuring up against their mid-season performance last year. I’ll compare the figures through the end of racing on Saturday, Pace Day, with the figures through the end of racing on July 18, 2014. The earnings for many of the upper echelon drivers are down this year; the average for the top ten is down almost $170,000. The winter and spring were historically bad, causing some tracks to delay their opening and others to cancel numerous dates.

Tim Tetrick, who topped the list last year at this point, after winning the Pace with He’s Watching, is currently in third place. He missed time early in the year to the World Driving Championship; last year he missed the first five weeks to rehab after he had a hip replaced. Despite wins in Saturday’s Golden Girls with Anndrovette, and the Haughton with Mach It So, Tetrick is short $735,000 from where he was at this point in 2014.

Jason Bartlett, the leading driver at Yonkers, has been leaving Westchester more this year, with trips to Pennsylvania on Wednesdays and more drives on the NYSS circuit. He drove in Canada not long ago and piloted Venus Delight at The Meadowlands on Pace night. Jason has started 106 more times, registering 40 more wins, and earning $1.1 million more than he had to mid-July last year. His UDRS has jumped from 0.314 to 0.350. He ended 2014 in seventh place; as good as the money is at Yonkers, all that stakes money up for grabs over the next four months will be  tough to overcome.

The 2014 year-end leader, Driver of the Year Yannick Gingras, is currently in fourth place. He was in second at this point last year. Gingras is $900,000 short of last year’s mid-season total, with 11 fewer starts and 65 fewer wins. His UDRS is 0.337; it was 0.364 at this time in 2014. The reason is, to an extent certainly, the same one that has Matt Kakaley off more than a million dollars and Brett Miller short 82 wins and almost $450,000: Ron Burke is light years ahead of the other trainers, but he’s also well behind last year’s record setting pace. Aged money-makers Foiled Again, Clear Vision, Bettor’s Edge and Rocklamation are a collective 4 for 41 with not much money between them. Many of his top 2014 sophomores, like JK End, Limelight Beach, Sayitall Bb and Gural Hanover, have disappointed. His Pace entry, Lyons Levi Lewis, finished ninth at 81/1. Takter is steaming along, so Yannick may win the title again in 2015, but so far there have been more bumps in the road.

John Campbell, who received much unsolicited advice about retiring after his serious accident at Chester in May of 2011, is killing it. At this time four years ago reports surfaced that Campbell, who was still in the recovery phase, was contemplating ending his career. Then in February, 2013, he broke his collarbone in an ice skating accident. Thanks to world champion JL Cruze, Doo Wop Hanover, Rockeyed Optimist and others, JC is currently at 18, up from 39 at this point a year ago. He has almost doubled his win total, and has earned $1.3 million more.

Corey Callahan, who is number two on the money list, was fifth last July. He missed time to the World Driving Championship in 2014, and has made 50 more starts this year. He has 80 more wins and $670,000 more in earnings. His UDRS is up to 0.332 from 0.288. Corey finished in sixth at year’s end. (Pierce was third last July and ended the season there. His absence is having an impact on all the marquee players.)

George Napolitano Jr, who stays in Pennsylvania during the high season and drives in Florida in the winter, is having a terrific year. GNap, who is the leading driver at both Harrah’s Philadelphia and Pocono Downs, is winning almost 23% of his starts at Harrah’s and more than 24% at Pocono. He doesn’t get much Grand Circuit work, but he did recently win the Franklin with Luck Be Withyou. He’s currently seventh, up from 13 last July. He has 55 more wins and has banked $727,000 more. George finished last year at number 11.

Tyler Buter is also having a very good year. He was number 50 a year ago, and has moved up to 19. He has 66 more wins and is up $1.3 million.

Dan Dube, who has benefited greatly from driving Rene Allard’s horses at Yonkers, has jumped from number 17 last July to number seven. He has 69 more wins on 104 more drives and is showing a healthy $1.5 million increase in purse money over one year ago. He’s the third leading driver at Yonkers, where he’s winning 15% of his starts. Dube finished 2014 in the 21 slot.

Simon Allard has also benefited from his brother’s success, in Pennsylvania. He was in slot 47 one year ago and is at 27 now. He had banked $743,000 more through Saturday than he did thru July 18, 2014.

Dave Palone, the King of The Meadows, was twelfth this time last July and is at 16 now. His drive total is down 295; he has 60 fewer wins; and he has banked $682,000 less. Dave’s UDRS is a high 0.372, virtually the same as it was a year ago.

Sylvain Filion, the only WEG based driver in the top twenty, went from number 23 last July to number 16 after Saturday. He’s made 75 more starts, has 60 more wins and has $587,000 more in the bank. Doug McNair, who had an off year in 2014, leaving him at number 38 in July and 32 at season’s end, has rebounded to the 24 slot.

 Jody Jamieson has been on the opposite track. He went from 18 a year ago to number 35 through Saturday. He has 44 fewer wins and is short $365,000. With the OSS in full swing these numbers can change quickly. The same goes for Chris Christoforu, who was wildly successful with Casie Coleman’s youngsters in the OSS last year. Coleman is off to a very slow start and Chris is down to 33 from 19 last July. He’s earned $268,000 less this year. And James MacDonald is down to 38 from 24, with 70 fewer wins and $223,000 less. Most of these WEG drivers have had multiple win nights/days in the OSS of late.

Mark MacDonald, who is up ten spots is a testament to the power of the purse money offered at Yonkers, his home base. He only has four more wins, but he has earned $600,000 more. He was second to Jim Morrill Jr on the NYSS circuit last season, and that’s just heating up. Morrill, who takes the winter off then races in Pennsylvania and upstate New York, has banked $500,000 more, with only three more wins. Both MacDonald and Morrill benefit greatly from that NYSS money.

Joe FitzGerald


Saturday, July 18, 2015

Some Saturday Morning Thoughts

I had a feeling once it was announced that Sebastian K had a leg injury that we had seen the last of the son of Korean.  Well, yesterday it was announced that the Swedish import has been retired due to a ligament injury in his hind leg.  For those of us in North America, it was a short run in seeing this trotting genius do what he does best.  Too short to be sure, but just enough to see a glimpse of his greatness.

Where he stands stud remains to be seen.  All I hope is he is supported in the stallion shed unlike Revenue who went back to Sweden after not being supported in the States.  Of course, once Revenue left the American scene, standardbred racing saw what his off-spring could do.

Besides the great stakes program at the Meadowlands tonight and the Lawrence B Sheppard at Yonkers Raceway, there is a racing under saddle event at Georgian Downs in tonight's third race.  Why mention this race?  For one, it is the first time this season a full field of eight trotters will be doing battle in the tilt.  In addition, Danish rider Karoline Nielson has come to Canada to make her North American debut on top of Audrey Pearl   Current plans are for Nielson to make two starts in North America before returning home.  You can get the program page for the race at Georgian Downs's website.

SOA President Joe Faraldo brought up a valid comment regarding the call for horsemen to donate 1% of their purses to a marketing campaign to be developed by the USTA or an outside marketing firm. Where is the track operator's contribution to marketing he asks?  In New York, the was a proposal to allow a certain amount of marketing funds from the lottery to be redirected to harness racing which was pulled because of the lack of support from at least one track operator.  Yes, the big money comes from alternate gaming, and horsemen have benefited greatly from purse supplements, but the operators of racetracks have profited greatly as well,  Marketing of harness racing is the responsibility of all, not just one group.

With the horse shortage the industry is suffering from, why do tracks insist on racing more than ten cards a night.  Wouldn't it make sense to reduce the number of races to ten a day instead and have full fields?  Yes, I know horsemen contracts typically determine the number of races to be contested each day, but in instances like this, it seems like horsemen should agree to a race reduction; after all, it's all about what's best for the customer.

Friday, July 17, 2015

DK's Pick-3 Selections for Meadowlands Pace Night

Knowing how well I do on exotics, I called in my friend DK whose wager of choice is the Pick-3.  I know some people don't care for the Pick-3, but of all the exotics there are, I think this one has the best value.  Three favorites come in and the wager pays little, but all to often, all it takes is one decently priced horse in the sequence and you get a nice return on your investment.  If you have a limited bankroll, the Pick-3 is the wager you should be looking at.

Without further ado, I turn this blog entry over to DK.

Hello again, it's DK, Pacingguy's friend from Michigan.  It's been a long time since I was asked to post on his blog but I'll try my best to find some value.  I must say, what a great card to watch and try to handicap.  Nothing has changed from my previous point of view, I don't like betting individual stake races because favorites tend to win too often and offer little value so I thought I might try something different using my favorite wager....the Pick 3.  While betting the larger Pick 4 wagers offer bigger pools, playing the Pick 3's offer good value if you're good enough to catch a nice price in the sequence.  Enough talk, let's get down to the business at hand.

Race 2:  2,3/2,5,9/1,2

Race 4:  1,2/3,7,10/3,6

Race 6:  3,6/2,3,7/5,8

Race 8:  5,8/2,8,11/4,9

Race 9:  2,8/4,8,9/2,6

Race 10:  4,9/1,2,6/2,6

Race 12:  2,6/3,5,6/2,9

That's what I've come up with, good luck with what ever wager you decide to play.  Remember, there always seems to be a race or two that go off the rails on big race day/nights.  I hope you find that race or two.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

A Look at Meadowlands Pace Night

The Meadowlands is hosting their second best night of racing this year; the Hambletonian Day card being the only card which surpasses Meadowlands Pace night.

Here is my take on the card.  Be aware I typically don't do so well at the Meadowlands, but every once in a while I will manage to catch lighting in a bottle.

Saturday night, all races have Win, Place, Show, Exacta; Trifecta, and Superfecta wagering (even on races with six horses) offered.  Pick-3s are offered on races two, four, five, six, eight, nine, ten, and twelve.  The Daily Double will be offered on the first and last two races on the card.  The fifth race offers a Super High Five wager without a jackpot while the fourteenth and final race offers the Jackpot Super High Five wager which, assuming it is not hit Friday night, will offer a carryover north of $200,000.  Both High-Fives feature an 8% rake,

Typically on Meadowlands Pace night, the Meadowlands offers enhanced guarantees on their Pick-x wagers and Saturday is no different.  The guarantees are:

Pick-5 (Races 1-5) - $50,000
Pick-4 (Races 3-6) - $50,000
Pick-4 (Races 7-10) - $100,000
Pick-4 (Races 11-14) - $25,000

Here are my selections for the Meadowlands, Saturday, July 17, 2015.  All races, unless denoted will be contested at the standard one mile distance.

1st Pace - $20,000; NW $15,500 Last 5
  4 - Odds On Equuleus - A Miller; 6-1
  9 - Art History - Zeron; 4-1
  8 - Ontario Success - Gingras; 8-1
  7 - Kingofthejungle - Tetrick; 15-1

2nd Trot - $157,225; Stanley Dancer Memorial - 3yo Open (1st Division)
  2 - Pinkman - Gingras; 6-5
  3 - Canepa Hanover - Taktere; 3-1
  6 - Habitat - Sears; 4-1
  1 - Muscle Diamond - Campbell; 5-1

3rd Pace - $11,560; NW  $6,500 Last 5 Starts
  5 - Dancin Hill - Kakaley; 10-1
  7 - Alex Bullville - Callahan; 7-2
  2 - That's My Opinion - A Miller; 5-2
  8- You Bet Your Glass - Tetrick; 8-1

4th Trot - $159,725; Stanley Dancer Memorial - 3yo Open (2nd Division)
  2 - Centurian ATM - Svanstedt; 7-2
  1 - Crazy Wow - Sears; 8-5
  6 - The Bank - Takter; 5-1
  5 - Iron - Tetrick; 12-1

5th Pace - $13 500; NW 2 LT - 3yo Colts and Geldings
10 - Hurrikane Ali - Gingras; 5-2
  3 - Roland N Rock - Campbell; 3-1
  5 - Shades of Bay - Zeron; 9-2
  7 - Dragon Eddy - Callahan; 8-1
  9 - Lyons Again - Kakaley; 10-1

6th Trot - $187,000; Delvin Miller Memorial - 3yo Fillies
  7 - Lady Winona - Smith; 5-1
  2 - Wild Honey - Campbell; 3-1
  6 - Magic Marker - D Miller; 8-1
  4 - Livinthefastlane - A Miller; 5-2

7th Pace - $201,350; Mistletoe Shalee - 3yo Fillies
  1 - Divine Caroline - Sears; 5-1
  3 - Single Me - A Miller; 20-1
  6 - Band Of Angels - Gingras; 7-2
10 - Moonlit Dance - D Miller; 8-1

8th Pace - $430,600; William R Haughton Memorial - FFA
  3 - Lyonssomewhere - A Miller; 12-1
  2 - Mach It So - Tetrick; 15-1
  9 - Luck Be Withyou - Sears ; 3-1
  5 - Doo Wop Hanover - Campbell; 5-2

9th Pace - $213,450 - 1 1/8 Miles; Golden Girls - FFA Mare
11 - Venus Delight - Bartlett; 6-1
12 - Rocklamation - Gingras; 8-1
  6 - Table Talk - A Miller; 6-1
  1 - Sayitall BB - Kakaley; 12-1

10th Pace - $706,000 - Crawford Farms Meadowlands Pace - 3yo Open
  4 - Wiggle It Jiggleit - Teague; 4-5
  2 - Dude's The Man - Callahan; 30-1
  9 - Wakizashi Hanover - Tetrick; 4-1
  3 - Artspeak - Zeron; 6-1

11th Trot -  1 1/8 Miles; Hambletonian Maturity - 4yo Open
  5 - Il Sogno Dream - Merriman; 20-1
  2 - Shake It Cerry - Takter; 4-1
  6 - JL Cruze - Campbell; 9-5
  3 - Resolve - Svanstedt; 12-1

12th Pace - $14,750; NW $11,500 Last 5
  7 - Idealbeach Hanover - Tetrick; 8-1
  6 - Capozzo - B Miller; 5-2
  2 - Mister Virgin - A Miller; 3-1
  1 - Rockaholic - A Merriman; 15-1

13th Pace - $26,000; Open Handicap
  5 - Melmerby Beach - Campbell; 3-1
  6 - All Bets Off - Kakaley; 5-2
  1 - El Bloombito - D Miller; 10-1
  2 - Dapper Dude - Callahan; 8-1

14th Pace - $7,600; NW $5,000 Last 5
  2 - Garnet River A - Marohn; 8-1
  9 - David's Dream - Gingras; 9-2
  7 - Jin Dandy - A Miller; 7-2
  3 - Steady Pulse - Zeron; 6-1
10 - Rocknroll Reality - Callahan; 10-1

Good luck and here's hoping you are cashing often.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Impressive Beginning For Roll With Joe

Four years ago this week Roll With Joe held off two-year-old champ Big Jim and won the Meadowlands Pace in 1:48.2 for Ron Pierce. The Cam’s Card Shark full brother to top sire Bettor’s Delight went on to win his division with more than $1.6 million in sophomore earnings.

He stood his first season in 2012 at Blue Chip Farms in New York for $7,000. Joe bred 137 mares, resulting in the 88 registered foals that make up the first crop, which is currently turning heads in the New York Sire Stakes program. His fee was reduced to $6,500 in 2013, and was cut again, to $5,000, for the 2014 season. That’s where it stands now.

Roll With Joe’s Brother, Bettor’s Delight, the king of NYSS pacers, was moved to Ontario, then Pennsylvania, and now back to Ontario, to make room for Joe. His freshman eligibility in the NYSS program expired last year. RWJ has big shoes to fill, but seems to be well on his way to doing just that.

Joe tops the freshman NYSS stat sheet, about $70,000 in earnings ahead of American Ideal, who has about the same number of starters and starts in the program. The formidable Art Major is in third place.

The first sire stakes program for two-year-old pacers, at Monticello on June 29, indicated that Joe was more likely to succeed than falter. His sons took two of the three $36,000 NYSS splits, and a pair of $15,000 Excelsior A divisions.

Roll With Fred won a SS split in 1:58.3 for Brett Miller and Joe Holloway. He’s a brother-in-blood to Bettor Be Steppin, who ranks third in her division in earnings and recently won the Lynch, and a half to Major Dancer, who won last year’s Town Pro final. Roll With Fred is staked to the BC as well as next year’s Pace.

And Mark Harder’s Joe Larry N Curly won another $36,566 split in a quick 1:56.3 for Jim Morrill Jr. Unfortunately, he followed that up with a break Saturday night as the 1/9 favorite in his Sheppard elimination. KJ Erich and the grey gelding, White Rolls, won the Excelsior splits.

On Friday at Saratoga the fillies got their chance. Gotmyreddressontnit beat another RWJ filly, Wishy Washy Girl, a neck in 1:54.4, which is only two ticks off the track record. The former, who is a brother-in-blood to Tony Alagna’s Revenge Shark, who raced in a Pace elimination on Saturday, was sent away as the 3/5 favorite for Wally Hennessey and Janice Connor. She took over at the half and that was that. Gotmyreddressontnit is the fastest and richest of Joe’s fillies.

Rolling Going Gone, the first foal out of the American Ideal mare, Long Gone, won an Excelsior A split in 1:58.1 at 21/1 for Bruce Aldrich.

Joe Holloway’s Hudsonandbernard, a brother-in-blood to Suplemental Income, beat 2YO NW2 at Pocono Downs in 1:54.2 at 13/1 for Joe Pavia Jr on Friday.

Since Joe is covering many of the same mares that were available to Bettor’s Delight, the brother-in-blood designation is common with his get. It’s more prevalent than it is with full brothers Andover, Conway and Angus Hall, who stand in Pennsylvania, New York and Ontario. Muscle Mass and Muscle Massive, Heston Blue Chip and Sunfire Blue Chip and Rockin Image and Rockin Amadeus are a few other brother combinations that could trigger this. There are also several active father-son combinations. It’s very early in the game, but matching Joe up with mares that were proven producers for Bettor’s Delight seems to be working out very well.

Roll With Joe’s fastest progeny was Casie Coleman’s Tommy’s Delight, who qualified in 1:53.4 at The Meadowlands. Unfortunately, he apparently died with little notice. He was out of a half-sister to L Dees Lioness, Coleman’s SBSW filly, who won splits of the Eternal Camnation and the Champlain in 2012, but was retired prematurely. She has a Well Said yearling.

Seven of Joe’s colts and four of his fillies are staked to the BC, as compared with 14 colts and 17 fillies for his big brother. It’s a long way from his promising start in the NYSS to being the sort of dual—sire stakes and Grand Circuit—threat Bettor’s Delight is, but so far, so good.

Joe FitzGerald

Now for the Good Points and a 'But'

My take yesterday on the USTA Summit on Ownership and Breeding painted a pretty gloomy picture, but it was not all doom and gloom in Columbus.  There are some good things which came out of the meeting, some which can be implemented easily, others having to overcome the hurdle of horsemen whose stables are full of overnight horses.

First of all, people are finally coming to the conclusion eliminations for stake races don't work.  There is recognition of some horses competing just to qualify, to have some horsepower in the tank for the final which would be fine if people weren't wagering on it.  This is not the way to attract new horseplayers (who may become owners).  A serious look at stake races being written with horses being seeded into the main event and consolation races such as done for the Battle of the Brandywine based on earnings or points.. 

Myron Bell continues to work on his idea to introduce a 'grand slam' set of stakes races with mega purses and bonuses.  Whether it comes to fruition remains to be seen, but this is not only a way to give races more prestige, it also may be a tool to attract new owners and convert owners who buy ready to race horses (primarily claimers) into yearling purchasers seeking that pot of gold. To fund these races, it likely will be necessary to take some overnight money to fund the purses; more about that later. 

The issue of funding marketing came up and once again the magic number of 1% of purses should be dedicated to marketing campaign.  The difference this time is the need to define what marketing would entail before asking horsemen for funding as in the past it was let's get the money before coming up with a plan.  It may take legislative action in some jurisdictions before purse money can be routed to marketing though admittedly, going to the legislature may give some legislators the idea of giving racing a haircut in reducing the total amount of slot funding dedicated to racing.

Another issue we and others have discussed before is the need to offer bigger purses for young horses beginning their career to make it easier for yearling buyers to break even or recoup expenses.  Of course, raising purses for these races would have to come at the expense of others, it being from claiming races and other races for more experienced horses.

While changing future race conditions can be done by the tracks or stakes owners, the other ideas would require horsemen approval which make no mistake will be a challenge as horsemen associations are primarily comprised of those who race in overnights.  To get horsemen to agree to fund marketing, races for green horses, and fattening stakes purses will not be easy.  It will require education, overcoming parochial thinking, and getting horsemen to recognize these sacrifices are in their best interests.  

To get the horsemen's approval, it will require an enlightened horsemen leadership to guide the rank and file into approving these changes.  Some states may be easier to convince than others.  This will be a formidable task but it is task which can not be ignored. 

The stakes are too high to fail. 

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

"Our Product Sucks"

"The ultimate problem is our product sucks" said Hanover Shoe Farms' Murray Brown at yesterdays USTA summit regarding the alarming decline of foals bred and the number of owners in the standardbred game.

Well, I don't think I would say the product 'sucks' but make no mistake, the product is severely boring, flawed, and quite honestly those who run the business abuse its customers, the gambler.  On second thought, 'sucks' may be an appropriate description.

Boring in it is the same thing every race, every week.  Same drivers, same horses, same basic race strategies, and long race meets where by the end of the season gamblers are thankful it is over for the year.  For an example, if you live in the market of Yonkers Raceway and are a patron of their product, you are thankful for the late Spring and Christmas breaks which are typically the only time you get to recharge your batteries.

The product is flawed.   Gamblers want larger fields, larger pools to wager into, variety in race distances, anything which makes the handicapping game tougher.  Not impossible, but tough enough so the rewards of selecting the winner is rewarded with more than an odds-on price.  Gamblers want larger pools to wager into so a $500 wager doesn't drop a 3-1 shot to 3-5.  The horseplayer wants to see something more (and less) than a mile race; anything to make the product less tedious.  In addition, odd distance races need to be properly reported in past performance pages so the data is more useful to the gambler.  How about a totally different style of racing, RUS?    I am sure RUS racing would be popular with punters if given a proper chance by track operators and horsemen with the approval of racing commissions to offer wagering.  Perhaps the ultimate in flawed is the infamous elimination races and post position preference to winners.  Racing just to qualify and giving preferential post position in the final, penalizing the horse who raced much harder out of an outside post to qualify?

The gambler is abused.  With the exception of a few wagers, the horseplayer is subjected to high take-out rates necessitating them to depend on ADWs which offer rebates to cut the real takeout rate, slowing their rate of burn (gambling money); and the industry wonders why you can't gamblers in front of their screen to the track?  If someone is a relative newbie unaware of ADWs, the burn rate is much higher, likely costing the industry a customer, and yes, possibly a new owner.  There is the refusal to offer free programs on websites as done in Canada.  No one is saying to provide 'enhanced' programs, provide the basic program patrons used to get in the 1970s.  Perhaps the ultimate abuse, nay insult is the playing with post times; the infamous post time drag with a race going off anywhere between 2 to 10 minutes after the listed post time.

Up to now, what has the industry done to solve these problems?  Too many tracks operate at the same time causing dilution of wagering pools thus guaranteeing small pools at all but a select few tracks.  Horsemen revolt at the idea of racing longer distance races (kudos to the horsemen at Yonkers for agreeing to this for those races being exported to France), owners revolting over the thought of racing with a second tier though harness racing was able to deal with it for many years.  Yes, it costs more to race these days but if racing at a slot track, horsemen are typically racing for far more money than they would have ever dreamed of years ago.  If willing to race at an added distance, the impact of the second tier is even less.  

Variety?  Forget about it.  Other than a rare odd distance race, it is vanilla as can be.  One mile, one mile, and you guess it, one mile.  The reaction to RUS, the one thing which has increased horse ownership both for RUS and traditional racing?  Some states show interest but many states look at it not as another form of racing for standardbreds, but a threat to their livelihood or are unwilling to invest the time needed to get racing commissions, and in some cases legislatures on board to approve that new style of racing.  

What ever happened to the heralded Exchange Wagering?  Cal Expo was supposed to debut it about a year ago; nothing.  In NJ, where it was approved by the legislature, it is still in the rule making process, a process taking so long, it is clear racetracks are not exactly clamoring for it.

Medication issues?  No easier way to get a newcomer playing the horses than having to figure out which trainers may be using 'the juice'.  When one track operator hires his own investigator and excludes trainers he feels doesn't deserve the privilege of racing at his tracks due to infractions, the mob is ready to draw and quarter him.  No, maybe the methodology isn't perfect but it needs to be asked why doesn't any other private track operator take similar actions.  

Cooperation between the states?  Forget about it; each state is an island to itself.  There's no coordination of race dates with a track 12 miles away in a different state.  Want to be an island is fine, that is if you want to be like trottingbreds with racing only in one state.  See how much wagering you will have then.

As Mark Loewe said, it begins with the gambler. Treating the gambler right is what makes him a horse owner which increases the demand for horses.  Racing has a lot to do in order to get racing into a desirable product for future owners and gamblers.  The time to act is now.

There were other great points brought up in the summit yesterday.  Read what was discussed.  If you love harness racing like me, you want to see this committee be successful.

Friday, July 10, 2015

Uncoupling Entries in New York

The New York State Gaming Commission have changed the rules to allow the uncoupling of entries in stakes races worth $50,000 or more as well as allowing coupled entries in superfectas.

While I suspect the superfecta rule will be of little use to harness tracks, it is nice to see the NYSGC is finally tip-toeing into the world of uncoupled entries (well, they had allowed it for races of $1 million and more, i.e. Belmont Stakes) as this should be of benefit to harness tracks.  Yonkers Raceway, the recipient of most of the sires stakes dollars will be able to uncouple most sires stakes events and their regular stakes as well while upstate tracks such as Tioga and Vernon Downs should be able to uncouple their major stakes.

One can only hope after this step, the gaming commission will lower the threshold so other tracks can take advantage of this rule on sires stakes races and their stakes races under $50,000 as this threshold does little for tracks like Monticello, Batavia, and Buffalo.  Hopefully at a later time, all entries may be uncoupled.

Interested in what Tioga Downs will look like if granted a racino?  The Onedia Dispatch reports on the details.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Horse Slaughter Returning?

Here we go again....

An amendment to ban the USDA from using funds to provide inspection services for horse slaughtering was defeated in the House Appropriations Committee according to the Paulick Report.  This means at the start of the FI year 2016, October 1, 2016, the USDA will be required to provide such services allowing for the resumption of horse slaughter if so desired.

An amendment may be offered on the house floor to ban the practice but it is unlikely to pass if the vote in committee is any indication.  In the 24-24 vote, 23 of the votes opposing the amendment were cast by Republicans with the sole Democrat, Henry Cuellar of Texas joining the GOP in turning the proposal down.  With the Republicans controlling the House, it is seems to be an impossible task for the amendment to succeed on the floor.

However, if the Senate Appropriations Committee (also  Republican controlled) approves an amendment, the bill would likely have to go to conference where the amendment may survive, but as of now, we are a step closer to horse slaughter. Therefore, it's important to lobby these members of the Senate Committee to support the continuation of the ban on horse slaughter.

 If the budget passes without a prohibition against inspections, don't expect the President to reject the budget on this issue as it would potentially cause a government shut down.

While the amendment did go down to defeat, the following GOP members of the committee should be commended for supporting the amendment; Ander Crenshaw (FL), Charles Dent (PA), David Jolly (FL), David Joyce (OH), and Kevin Yoder (KA).

Meadowlands Pace Elimination Preview

A group of fourteen horses have entered the eliminations for the Meadowlands Pace necessitating two seven horse elimination races Saturday evening where only five in each elimination advance to the big dance.  It would be a typical Meadowlands Pace except for a horse from Iowa who has the audacity to try crashing into the upper echelon of harness racing.

Roland N Rock is the horse in question.  Does a horse which races in $1,000 events at fairs like What A Cheer and Humboldt Iowa, makes his way to East Rutherford with a qualifier at Running Aces, MN and a win a race at Goshen, NY have a chance, especially when he has to go against the likes of Wiggle It Jiggleit and Wakizashi Hanover in his elimination?  We'll talk about that later, but make no mistake, it brings a little intrigue to the eliminations.

Let's take a look at the two eliminations, from the rail out.

6th Race - 1st Eliminaation
1 - Dealt A Winner (D Miller) - Definitely not the same horse he was last year when he won over $119,000.  So far in 2015 this three year old has made four starts with a second and third with $7,700 in earnings.  Looks better than his record shows and is reunited with his regular driver, the third race since taking a few weeks off.  On the other hand, he has yet to break the 1:50 mark.  It will take his very best to advance to the final.

2 - In The Arsenal (Sears) - His big win thus far in 2015 is the Art Rooney at Yonkers.  A winner of an elimination of the Pepsi North America Cup, he was unable to be a factor in the final finishing fourth.  Racing in the Hempt elimination and final, he raced respectively against Artspeak (2nd) and Wiggle It Jiggleit (3rd).  A definite factor in this race and will advance to the final.

3 - Dude's The Man (Callahan) - The winner of a division of the Somebeachsomewhere at Mohawk has raced credibly but nothing sticks out of late; a third place finish in the NYSS and a second place showing in an overnight event at Vernon Downs, trainer Jessica Okusko's home track. Hard pressed to see him advancing.

4 - Artspeak (Zeron) - Is there much to say here?  The obvious choice to win this race.  Whether he can win the final remains to be seen but with the lack of the other marquee horses, it seems like clear sailing here.

5 - Hurrikane Ali (Gingras) - A second tier horse whose last victory was the second leg of the NJSS in 1:50.1.  Had no chance in the Pepsi North America Cup final and turned in a sparkling 1:52 qualifying victory.  Unlikely to win here but should move to the final.

6 - Revenge Shark (Callahan) - Watch the driver selection here as named on Dude's The Man who I exepct Callahan to select.  Nothing really to pique my interest here.  It will be a massive upset for him to win, will need everything to go his way to move to the final.

7 - Pierce Hanover (B Miller) - People are questioning the drive last week in the Hempt final.  Will he be ready for a  big effort or will he suffer the effects of last week's drive?  Being Miller returns to race this week suggests the driver followed the trainer's orders.  Despite drawing the worst post in this short field.  A perfect trip puts this son of Cam's Card Shock in position to upset the top dog.

Picks 4-1-7

11th Race - 2nd Elimination
1 - Trading Up (Zeron) - Winner of a nw2/3 conditioned race at the Meadowlands in 1:51.1 and won a Stallion Series race at Philadelphia.  In between, not too much.  If not for being trained by Tony Alagna, this horse would be an automatic toss.  Still, unless something crazy happens, I don't see him advancing.

2 - Rock N' Roll World (D Miller) - An 8-0-5-1 kind of says it all.  He can land a share but seems to be unable to convert his efforts into wins.  With the big two in this race, he doesn't figure to have a chance to break his 0'fer record this week.  May pick up minor spoils to advance to the final.

3 - Roland N Rock (Campbell) - Oh, what a story it would be for him to win Saturday night.  This son of Rocknroll Hanover is 18 for 18.  Raced outside the whole way in the Landmark Stakes last week before drawing off to a ten length victory.  To say he will be tested for class here is an understatement.  My heart says yes, my brain says no.  Can advance, but will be impressed if he gets on the ticket.

4 - Lyons Levi Lewis (Gingras) - Other than a qualifying victory at the Meadowlands, the season has been disappointing.  Will have to make a big improvement to punch his ticket to the big dance.

5 - Badiou Hanover (A Miller) - Interesting horse with five victories out of eight starts this year.  Julie Miller has him improving and could be serious contender  With the North America Cup and Hempt winners in this elimination, advancing to the final is likely the best they can expect and should achieve.

6 - Wakizashi Hanover (Tetrick) - Tough trip cost the trainee of Joann Looney-King ing a chance for a North America Cup-Hempt double.  Has done little wrong this year.  Likely to try to tuck in second and take a shot at Wiggle It Jiggleit in the stretch.  Will he do it?  Possible, but remember, the prize is next week.

7 - Wiggle It Jiggleit (Teague) - The one to beat. A scenario for defeat would be someone stinging him as he moves for the lead allowing Wakizashi Hanover to pass him late.  Unfortunately, I d Son't see that happening.  The likely winner.

Picks  7-6-2

Early Start - As a reminder, the Meadowlands starts at 5:30 pm this weekend due to a Taylor Swift concert.  Last time Swift appeared at the Meadowlands, the traffic was horrendous with fans arriving very early.  Normally I would encourage people to go to the track but unless you are looking to arrive around 3pm, I would suggest watching and wagering from home.

Monday, July 6, 2015

Some Good News for Gural, Tioga, and Vernon Downs

After a drought of good news for Jeff Gural, you would have to excuse him if he has a smile today as the one known opposing bid for a casino license in the Southern Tier has withdrawn from consideration as some financial backers have dropped out due to concerns regarding New York tax credits. 

While another unknown developer could come to the forefront at the last minute (bids are due today), for all practical purposes the NYSGC will only have one application for the Southern Tier license.  While the licensing committee could decide a Tioga bid is not satisfactory, it is highly unlikely this would be the case as Gural certainly must have learned from the first time Tioga Down's application was rejected.

In addition to Gural, horsemen at Tioga Downs as well as Vernon Downs must be smiling and relieved.  Vernon Down's existence is dependent on how profitable Tioga is as Tioga sends money to Vernon Downs to keep them operating..  Of course, Tioga's horsemen are smiling at the fact a casino appears to be on its way for it keeps Tioga operating at its current level and secures their purses (state law caps how much horsemen get from alternate gaming, unless something creative 
is negotiated with the horsemen as was done at Monticello). 

How big will it be for Tioga Downs if they do receive the sole gaming license?  Pull The Pocket wrote an excellent piece as to why no one worries about handle at tracks anymore once there is gaming revenue coming in as can be seen from Plainrdige's recent racino opening..In the long run, it may sink racing, but for the immediate and near term, slot revenue is like manna from heaven.

When talking about European trotting, one talks about France, the Scandinavian countries, and Italy to a lesser degree,  You may even occasionally hear of racing from Holland, Germany; even Ireland and the UK.  But Hungary?  Yes, Hungary?  Harnessslink has an article about the 101st edition of the  Hungarian Trotting Derby.  If you have windows media player or flash player, you ill ble able to see the Derby as well as other races on the card.  

At Goshen on Saturday, there was an accident in the 10th race, an amateur event when two horses locked wheels and the drivers were dumped.   The two horse ran off, one going the wrong way.  Fortunately, one trainer ran out onto the track to get one horse to stop and a driver done for the day jumped out of the grandstand to grab the other, avoiding disaster.  Fortunately, drivers and horses were unharmed from the incident.  

One may ask where the outrider was?  Historic Track doesn't have an outrider for their short four day meet in an obvious cost cutting move.  I understand the reason but I reject the thought racing can be conducted without an outrider.  If not for the two individuals who jumped into action, who knows what disaster may have happened?  It is not only Historic Track which lacks and outrider, Saratoga Harness also does without.  The USTA should mandate an outrider at all tracks anytime racing takes place.

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Serving Two Masters and its Part in Handicapping

In Saturday night's Hempt Memorial at Pocono Downs, some individuals were questioning Brett Miller's drive on Pierce Hanover for taking on Wiggle It Jiggleit with five-eights of a mile to go.  It was wondered if Miller would have been better to stay in along the rail and try to get a check instead of making what turned out to be a losing move.

As it turned out, these people were probably right, especially if you were concerned primarily with those on the other side of the racetrack, who I will call the wholesalers (owners, trainers, drivers, etc).

Unfortunately, if you were looking at it from the perspective of the retail customers (gamblers), they would disagree.  What Miller's particular strategy was I don't know.  Pierce Hanover has raced well from off the pace but with a rare rail post position perhaps the driver feared being trapped with nowhere to go so the reinsman decided to make an early move; perhaps the thought was if he went forward with his horse, Montrell Teague may have let him clear and then retake; maybe he hoped after last week's defeat, Teague may have become rattled and made a mistake.  Clearly it didn't work and and Pierce Hanover was left stuck outside so he kept on going, hoping Wiggle It Jiggle It would falter from the pressure soon enough so Pierce Hanover may have still been a factor.  Of course, Wiggle It Jiggleit was the best horse and in spite of the pressure applied he was victorious.

Obviously it wasn't the right move to make as Pierce Hanover backed through the field to finish eighth, beating only one horse.  At 49-1 the public didn't expect much from him, so no one would have faulted Miller for playing it conservative, hoping to just pick up a check but would that have been fair to those gamblers who wagered on his horse?  Maybe Pierce Hanover would have had another opportunity in the race to make a move but given the choice, I suspect the retail customer preferred Miller put his horse into play rather than just try and get a check.

Please note, this is not a criticism of Brett Miller and his ability as a driver.  It is just this race made for a perfect example and he happened to be in it.

Be it quarter horse, standardbred or thoroughbred racing, this has been the problem which has been around since parimutuels were introduced.  How does the rider or driver serve two masters with different goals at the same time?  The wholesaler needs purse money to stay in business, pay the bills, and hopefully show a profit at the end of the year while the retail customer wants to cash a winning ticket.  Often, the goals of both sides are aligned, but there are times when the interests of the wholesaler is diametrically opposed to the interests of the retailer.

So who does the driver owe allegiance to?  Make a bold move in a race and win, you are the darling of gambler and owner alike.  Come up with nothing to show for the effort, the gambler may appreciate the fact you tried but you may find yourself without a horse next time or even worse, find yourself on a trainer's list of drivers they will never use again.

Unless someone comes up with a better way to do things, drivers are going to face this dilemma for a long time.  Figuring out what the driver may do is a legitimate part of the handicapping puzzle, something else a handicapper needs to consider; maybe not in overnights but certainly in large purse events such as stakes races.  Learn which drivers drive aggressive or conservatively in these big money races with favorites and longshots alike, hopefully you will profit from it.  At the very least it may save you some aggravation,