For photos from the Meadowlands contact

Sunday, January 31, 2016

The Kid Does it!

The press was correct when they predicted Bold Eagle, a babe at the age of five when compared to the others, would be the favorite to win the 2016 Prix d'Amerique at Vincennes Racetrack outside of Paris France and he did not disappoint as the son of former Prix winner Ready Cash won the race in a stakes and track record 1:11.4/1:54.4 (kilometer/mile rate) for the approximate 1 11/16 mile distance (2,700 meters), obliterating the former record by a full second.

Bold Eagle tracked Timoko for roughly half the race before making his move to the front where he managed to win with relative ease.

Though a losing effort, and no one typically remembers the loser, Timoko was impressive in defeat, finishing second in the marathon race.  Oasis Bi finished third in the classic.

While there is more racing in store for the champion, on this side of the pond people must be wondering if we will be seeing Bold Eagle on our shores later this year.  At the present time, this is unknown.

Sunday Morning Miscellanery

The Meadowlands out-of-competition testing program has ensnared trainer Robert Bresnahan Jr. for the use of EPO, a performance enhancement drug.  As a result of this positive which was returned by a Hong Kong lab, Bresnahan finds himself excluded from participating at the Meadowlands, Tioga Downs, and Vernon Downs while horses currently trained by him are excluded from participation for 60 days.  Bresnahan has the right to have the split sample tested but being the lab has never had a false positive, the odds of a split coming up negative is extremely remote.

Meanwhile on the other side of the country, trainer Marissa Tyler finds herself temporarily suspended pending a final hearing as a result of out-of-competition and post-race testing for cobalt at Cal Expo.  In the meanwhile, 21 horses there find themselves on the vet list pending evidence cobalt levels have returned to normal.

While post-racing testing is a needed weapon in the tool against cheating, the most significant infractions are the ones which occur on the farm where trainers may feel more emboldened to 'treat' a horse with a medication that has no therapeutic use.  While drugging to get an unfair advantage is plain wrong, to the public which is concerned with animal welfare issues such as whipping and post-racing treatment, the use of drugs which have little benefit and likely are detrimental to the horse is unacceptable.  Hence, if looking at the long term welfare of racing, out of competition testing needs to be expanded.

Dean Towers discusses in Harness Racing Update talks about the hard changes made Down Under and how officials need to make similar changes up here.  Of course, getting them to move is another story.

As you may be aware, the Prix d'Amerique is being or depending on when you read this, has been contested today.  You may wonder why few if any sources had wagering on this race in North America.  Lack of interest by the wagering public would be the chief reason.  The last time the Meadowlands carried wagering on the race, it handled in the neighborhood of $200, certainly not a reason to open early or go through the expense of setting up the satellite feed, etc.  Certainly, the uniqueness of the race, a walk-up start is daunting to the North American gambler who is used to vanilla one-mile contests behind a starting gate, but the biggest problem is the lack of available information.  When the information presented seems to be in tongues, it is hard to find anyone other than the most rabid fan looking to make a small wager.

The various trotting countries are trying to come up with a uniform data collection method which will allow gamblers in their respective countries to see information they are familiar with  Such a process can't come soon enough.  With racing becoming a volume business, it becomes increasingly obvious tracks need to operate as long as possible each day sending and receiving race signals so bettors can get all the action they need.

For the record, my selection for the Prix is Timoko.

Does quality translate to handle?  The racing this weekend at the Meadowlands would suggest otherwise as they ended up with a pair of $3 million handles this weekend.  Looking at the program, a couple of $5,000 purses for $10,000 claimers and a slew of non-winners of $5,000 and $7,500 in the last five starts races would not make one think of huge handles but I suggest competitive racing is a bigger factor.  No doubt, the way conditions are being written helps make the racing competitive.  For those who are not following the Meadowlands, the conditions often eliminate horses which won in the same class from racing at the same level in the next start and doesn't allow for horses to drop more than one class to compete in an easier class.

Obviously, all things being consistent, class wins out, but competitive fields wins out when it comes to the bettor's preference.

On the subject of pricing (aka takeout), it puzzles me why tracks need to have blended takeouts when they can have a single takeout rate.  A more specific peeve of mine is the higher takeouts for most exotic bets when compared to straight wagers.  Of course the reasoning behind this is when you have higher payoffs, who is going to notice more of their profits being scraped away by the rake?  After all, does it matter to a horseplayer that they receive a $1,850 payoff instead of $1,900?  Perhaps in the old days it didn't matter, but when you look at the more sophisticated gambler of the modern era, they understand their payoff is being cut by the higher rake, which can be significant if the holder of the winning ticket has $20 invested on it instead of $2.

It costs just as much to process a trifecta ticket as does a win wager.  While I won't pretend to know what the ideal rate should be, a standard 'oneprice fits all' policy would attract gamblers as they know the lower rake will  return more to the horseplayer and keep them playing longer.

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Spicing Up the Wagering Menu for the Mid-Market

As you may be aware, the USTA will be holding a gambling summit this spring in an effort to discuss issues which make increasing handle hard these days.  Issues such as takeout and wagering types will be a couple of the topics discussed.  Having a summit is a good thing provided the eye is not solely on the large gamblers; consideration must be given to the mid-market player as well.

Make no mistake, these days racing depends (where not slot-subsidized) on the big-time gambler.  The problem is whether through an ADW or on-track there are few tracks which make sense for these players to gamble their money on.  Casinos work nicely for these gamblers because 'handle' is non-existent for casinos as the player goes up against the house.  Of course, as discussed here and elsewhere, racino tracks would like to increase handle as well because while they are committed (or are forced to commit) to racing, they rather have it cover more of the cost as it would improve the bottom line.

So what is any track with a small handle to do in order to guide wagering to their facility?  With the large gambler out of the picture, realistically they need to focus on developing the mid-market gambler, someone willing to invest $100 a visit to the track.  $100 a person is not much you say?  While it is hard to compute with attendance figures hard to come by, most track officials would be doing cartwheels if they could get a per capita of $100 from their on track customers.

The problem is, the mid-market gambler likes to hit it big as much as the big-time gamblers, but unfortunately, most wagering offerings offer little sizzle for these players and the Pick-4 (and up) and Pentafectas (jackpot or not) are too expensive for them to having any success over the long term barring divine intervention.  Play the traditional wagers and the takeout will slowly grind their bankrolls down over the long run or they can chase their dream with the super exotics and get their bankrolls ground down quickly as either they try to hit one of these wagers with a couple of tickets or by covering many combinations on one wager going for broke.

Some may say this is what dime wagers are for.  Well, if someone hits a superfecta which pays  $800 for a dollar, that $80 payoff isn't going to look that good to the person who played $24 in dime wagers to hit it.  We may want to say you won $80 for a dime, but the player is going look at it as winning $80 for their total investment which will make the payoff less impressive, which so happens to be the logic in asking the IRS to look at the total amount wagered on a bet instead of the single winning bet when it comes to IRS reporting and withholding.

What is needed are wagers which fall somewhere in between the spectrum of the ho-hum wager and mega pay-off wager, something which if they hit can send them home happy, enough profit to satiate their need for the 'big' hit considering the relatively low investment they need to make to have a decent chance to collect.  The question is what kind of wager may that be?

While the Pick-3 and trifecta would fall into this type of wager, the exacta doesn't due to too many small pay-offs (more prevalent at harness tracks).  I won't pretend to know all the wager types which would realistically appeal to this type of player, but wagers such as a Double Exacta (or even Double Quiniella) could return decent payoffs for a reasonable investment.  Consideration can be given to a Win Most where a player would select winners for each race on the card with the pool going to those who had the most winners on the card.

Of course, realizing a track can have only so many wagers per race, it would require dropping some wagers from the card.  At these small tracks, there is no need to offer a superfecta in every race.  Perhaps alternating these mid-market wagers with supers would be a good balance.

As for the small-time or recreational gambler, no track is going to turn them away but the existing traditional wagers and some of the mid-market wagers should appeal to them as well; hence getting them to return more often as their wagering bankroll will last longer.

So while the upcoming racing summit the USTA will be sponsoring is important, attention needs to be spent looking for ways to attract the mid-market as well as the larger gamblers.

Friday, January 29, 2016

A New Model for North American Racing - The Tracks and Wagering

People often cite the success of racing in Sweden as proof racing can thrive given the right opportunity.  While they may be right, I tend to think they are not aware of how racing is conducted in the Scandinavian country.  It is totally different than the majority of North American racing.

Yesterday, I discussed how the new racetracks will need to be developed; part of a planned multi-use residential-commercial development.  The question is who will operate these developments?

Under the Swedish model, wagering is operated by ATG, who provides tote services for all forms of racing.  Unlike the for-profit tracks in the United States and Canada (except for those operated by non-profits), Swedish racetracks are operated by non-profits; their concern is with racing and supporting the industry, including breeding.  The sad truth is racing will not be profitable enough for a for-profit group and like it or not, decoupling will come ending the racino-era at racetracks.

What is needed is a reduction of racing dates with race dates assigned to the various non-profit tracks for meetings (race days, not actual race meets) by this national tote group.  The tracks will operate in many ways as they currently are, the exception being wagering  outsourced to an ATG-type group which will handle wagering on track and wagering off-track which will also provide the funds for race purses.  

Under this ATG organization, with race meets scheduled by them, they will be able to organize marketing for specific meets and the promotion of wagering.  Development of new wager types would be one of the missions of this organization, creating new parlay type bets and their V wagers such as the V75 or V86.  With one group leading the charge, they will be able to be the point group responsible for getting the wager a large national audience, such as ticket sales through lottery agents (how do you think Megamillions and Powerball become national games).  The promise of a nationalized wager with the potential of large pools and payoffs will generate income for the various states, as they seek to modernize their offerings.  
What do you do about ADWs?  U.S. law provides anti-trust protection to these companies so they will still need to be given access to the signals as currently done.  This national wagering agency will need to compete with the ADWs to draw market share to them away from the ADWs

Yes, changes will need to happen on the state levels for this to happen.  With many states already allowing ADWs to come in an accept wagers, time will be needed, but eventually state commissions will come around (note this plan doesn't do anything regarding licensing and non-wagering regulations).

Thursday, January 28, 2016

A New Vision for Future Racetracks?

While the new Meadowlands Racing and Entertainment facility is a physical plant designed for the current economic reality of horse racing, it probably doesn't represent the future look of racetracks.  For a current track which gets the idea, a multi-use facility, Gulfstream Park probably represents the current idea of a mixed-use facility, with a casino, shopping, dining, and corporate offices as part of their development.

The next step in the future of racetracks, may be coming to Georgia, if horse racing (including harness racing) is approved.  There, in a state where casino gambling would seem unlikely, there are plans for a different type of mixed use facility with retail, residential housing, hotels, equestrian, and of course the racetrack.  The racetrack would be unique with a park inside the racing oval connected to the various districts.  The park can be used on both racing and non-racing days for concerts and other events to maximize utilization of the facility.  On the outside of the racing oval, there will a grandstand surrounded by retail dining to allow customers to watch the races (and to be open on non-racing days).

The concept is not totally new, as a similar development is being developed at Alexandra Park in New Zealand.  Under the current model, racing alone is not self-sufficient, but as part of a retail and residential development can be profitable as a destination and a point for community events.

Time will tell whether or not pari-mutuel racing is established in Georgia which would allow this development to be built, but considering the need for a steady source of cash to operate racing outside of slots, other tracks would be wise to redevelop excess landholdings into money-making parcels.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016


Meadowlands Chili Cookoff on Saturday, January 30 with $1,000 prize

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ (January 27, 2016) – The Meadowlands Racetrack’s inaugural Homestyle Chili Cookoff is Saturday, January 30.  The contest offers a $1,000 first place prize plus a spot in the International Chili Society’s World Championship cook-off in Reno, Nevada.

Homestyle chili is defined by the International Chili Society as the cook’s favorite combination of ingredients resulting in a dish seasoned with chili peppers and spices. Contestants must cook their chili on site between 3:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. with judging promptly after. 

In addition to the chili competition, a separate side contest for homemade salsa will also be conducted offering the winner a $500 first prize.

Cooks can still enter to compete through Thursday, January 28, currently there are thirteen entrants for the chili cookoff and seven contestants in the homemade salsa contest. 

Sampling of both the chili and salsa are also encouraged and all those at the track on Saturday will have the opportunity to sample and vote for their “People’s Choice” favorite. 

“We are extremely pleased with the response to the chili cook-off,” said Meadowlands General Manager and CEO Jason M. Settlemoir. “We continuously look for new and engaging promotions to get people to come out the track. We are looking forward to sampling and voting on some great chili! ”

For complete rules and information, visit

Treating Horsemen Badly

Yonkers Raceway as well as Monticello Raceway cancelled their Tuesday afternoon card due to a national problem caused by the failure of Sportech's tote system hub which handles simulcast wagering.  Some  tracks raced for purse money only while the harness tracks cancelled their cards outfight despite waiting some time to see if the system got back up and running.

Of course, while simulcast wagers were not available, tracks could have raced for wagers placed on track.  Unfortunately with 90% of the wagers coming from off-track sites, horsemen would have been racing for pools which would pay for a fine stake meal and not much more.

Still if horsemen were already at the track and ready to race for pure money, management should have allowed horsemen to race for purse money only, after all it is their money.  If they are willing to spend the purse account funds with nothing coming in from spending this money why not?  As for the tracks, they already had their personnel there.  Horsemen shipped in, horses got Salix and were ready to go; not as if they cancelled before horsemen arrived at the track at least four hours before the race.  Quite honestly, the tracks treated horsemen shabbily.

As of this morning, there is no explanation for the tote system problem.  Expect racing commissions to look for an explanation.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Scarlet Turgot wins the Prix de Cornulier

The last big race in Vincennes before next week's Prix d' Amerique is the Grade I Prix de Cornulier, a monte event raced at 2700 meters which was contested earlier today.  The ten year old, Scarlet Turgot was the winner, crossing the wire first in 3:16.73 or a kilometer rate of 1:12.9,

Winning the biggest monte race in France entitles the winner to return the following week to race in the Prix d' Amerique.  We will see if her connections decide to make the start.

Jonas Musings

Snowbound and nothing to do,  Well, not quite as Snowbound as you would be led to believe watching the news, but enough to go off-topic

Some things to ponder:

So here we are the day after Winter Storm Jonas and one can't chuckle at the National Weather Service forecaster who on Friday in the forecast discussion mentioned "...accumulation forecasts are likely to change (most likely downward)".  Bet you they wish they could have taken that one back as the six to ten inches they had in their forecast during Friday turned into twenty-one inches.

Isn't it amazing that civilization has survived after the big storm.  Despite the fact we had twenty one inches of snow, we were only trapped till daybreak.  Wonder if those people who bought enough food for two months are going to donate their excess food to their local food pantry,

Isn't it ironic that one of the most popular food purchases for winter storms turns out to be ice cream?  Really, ice cream when it is in the twenties?  If you really needed a cold treat, all you needed to do was go outside and grab some of the frozen stuff and dig in..

It turns out the blizzard of 2016 was the second highest all-time storms in terms of inches of snow in Central Park, New York.  It missed the all record by one tenth of an inch.  You would have thought the person measuring the snow for the Central Park Conservancy would have fudged the figure to get the all-time record, after all what is one tenth of an inch?  Who would know?  Clearly this person would get eaten alive were they a race horse trainer.

To show you how bad a storm it was consider Yonkers Raceway.  Yonkers is known to cancel racing if there was a threat of a snowflake falling, but for them to shut the casino part of the facility, it must have been bad.

Don't you wish it was the good old days when racetracks had stables on the backstretch?  Then, they could have run the races for their off-track audience and the three hardy people who would have traveled to the track.  Sure, there may have been a few scratches from the shippers, but considering 90% of the money is wagered off-track, what would have been the big deal?

Things to Do:

So if you are like me and you love your harness racing, what are you supposed to do today to play some races in the afternoon?  There is a dearth of tracks which race in the afternoon to begin with and on a Sunday, it is even harder.  Well, it looks like a Fraser Downs day as they start racing at 3:45 in the afternoon (they are in the Pacific time zone) and offer a free program on their website.  Of course, it would be nice if our ADWs would be taking wagering on French and Swedish racing so there would be earlier signals to play today.

Or for kicks, you can place a wager on your friend's horse racing this evening; after all I didn't get the nickname of 'Kiss of Death' for nothing.  Despite her pleadings, I won't wager on all the other horses in the race so hers can get its maiden win (have to hope she doesn't see this).

You can read today's edition of the revived Harness Racing Update and read a Gural hate letter.  Now it seems like old times.

Reading the weekly fines and suspension list is always entertaining when you see someone you know listed on it.  Nothing more fun than asking your friend about the penalty.  Their response often reads like you just saw them come out of a store with an adult movie in their hand.  I advise only kidding them for something minor  When they are suspended for more than ten days, it is probably best to pretend you never saw it.

If you are an American, you can take this lack of daytime harness racing and ponder a Trump Presidency.  Then you can start looking at other countries' immigration policies.  I myself am leaning towards Wales (of course it has to be a country with harness racing of some form).  Of course, being a big harness racing fan you may be surprised I didn't chose a Scandinavian country like Sweden, Norway, or Finland.  In my younger days perhaps, but it's a little too cold for me now.  To my Canadian friends, please take no offense, it's just us Yanks keep forgetting Canada isn't our 51st state (ouch!),  Have to remember the leader of Canada is named Trudeau.  Yep, just like many of the harness horsemen whose last name has a suffix of 'Jr.'.  It is the family business.   I am not taking a public stance in the election, it is just if Sanders became President, there is no need to move to a socialist country.

Lastly, if really bored and haven't already done so, you can upgrade your laptop or PC to Windows 10© only to find out your 'so called' Windows 10© compatible laptop isn't quite so compatible.  Then you get to roll back to your earlier operating system.  This is also a good way to see how good the technical support is for your computer manufacturer.

Friday, January 22, 2016

One Idea to Increase Yearling Crops

As in the thoroughbred world, the standardbred industry is alarmed at the declining crop of foals each year as low prices have forced breeders to either cutback their production of foals or to exit the breeding game.  There are multiple factors which contribute to this, ranging from producing foals with out-of-fashion pedigree to the fact there are fewer purchasers of yearlings.

And who can blame these potential yearling buyers when slot-infused purses makes it more logical to go out and buy a ready to race horse either through auctions of racing stock, private sale, or the claiming game?  After all there is the expense of upkeep and training of the horse which may or not make it to the races at age two, if at all.  So what can be done to increase interest in the purchasing of yearlings, the point where the breeder's plan of the previous year is graded in black or red?  Clearly, something needs to be done to swing the pendulum back towards buying yearlings instead of ready made racehorses. 

While not the complete answer, one part of the solution could come in the form of owner rewards.  Under the owner rewards model, purses would be supplemented with a purse enhancement to be paid out in overnight events to those horses where at least sixty percent of the ownership is maintained by the owner(s) who purchased the horse at a yearling sale or is a home-bred. In the case of multiple owners or partnerships, owners can sell or buy into a horse as long as sixty percent of the horse's ownership interest remains with the original owners to qualify.  A horse can race in claiming race and not lose eligibility provided the horse is not claimed.  If claimed, the horse looses its eligibility even if claimed back by the original owners.

How would this work?  A horse with a qualified ownership entered in an overnight event (excluding claiming races or entered under an optional claiming condition) would be eligible to earn a purse enhancement.  An overnight could be a race for maidens all the way up to an invitational.  In each race a twenty percent (a suggestion) purse enhancement would be offered from the ages of two through six to qualified owners.  The purse enhancement would be paid out to the top five finishers in the same percentages as regular purse earnings to those qualified.  If a horse not eligible for the program finishes in the top five, the share of the purse enhancement which would have been awarded in that particular position would be returned to the purse enhancement pool for another race.

Making this better would be any money earned through the owner rewards purse enhancement would not count towards lifetime earnings with regards to determining the horse's classification for its next race.  Also, the enhancement would go only to the owners, not subjected to the driver and trainer's standard five percent earnings.

Winning a $10,000 race would earn you a $1,000 bonus which may not open many eyes, but if you happen to be racing in a $35,000 Invitational at your local track and wheel off four or five wins in a row, the $14,000 to $17,500 in additional earnings most certainly will get your attention.

Of course, since such programs are organized on a state level, the owner rewards supplement would likely be restricted to horses which were sired or bred in a particular state.  In this case, the implementation of a enhancement program would stimulate the interest in yearlings from that state. 

Owner rewards, one possible solution to increase interest in yearlings.  It's worth a look. 

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Questions Needing Asking

“While the traditionalists will struggle with this move, it’s the new-age punter the sport desperately needs to attract and this move will help.”

So said Adam Hamilton from Sky Racing said regarding Harness Racing Victoria's (HRV) decision to end the practice of using standing starts for pacers starting September 1.  HRV noticed handle on standing start races was significantly lower than on races conducted with the starting gate.

HRV made the decision because they decided they needed to do something to provide a product the customers want by eliminating these races which punters tend to stay away off.

You may be saying harness racing in North America is doing well.  After all, in the United States, didn't handle go up a little over 1% this year?  True, but a closer examination of the handle numbers show wagering per race has decreased roughly 3%.  Ask those in non-slot states and it is more evident there is a problem with the racing product.

The mile distance has been a sacred cow in North America for as long as anyone can remember.  It has been a long time since horsemen readily accepted horses in the second tier for stakes races (I remember 16 horse fields at the Meadowlands).  This despite fuller fields (with longer distances) could increase wagering as customers love more betting choices as prices increase.  Granted, it may take a little time for handicappers to get used to the new set up, but get used to it they will.

RUS?  Yes, there is regulatory hurdles to be overcome to get parimutuel wagering approved but in some states there is a refusal to try and get wagering approved or outright hostility to this new form (at least this side of the pond) of standardbred racing which with support of horsemen will attract new customers and interest.

We have too much racing, more accurately too much poor racing.  I am not talking about tracks with cheaper racing stock, but non-competitive fields due primarily to a shortage of horses exasperated with too many tracks operating in the same geographic region, competing for the same racing stock.

The problem is in slot states, shorter fields mean having to beat less horses to earn slot money so it is in the interest of horsemen and owners to keep the status quo.  In the meanwhile the sport suffers with dwindling attendance and handles on individual races declining as customers grow tired with cheap prices.

Jackpot wagers abound, sucking money out of the churn.  The big bettors love them but it comes with the loss of money played into other types of wagers, wagers which fund purse accounts,  The jackpot wagers fund accounts as well with little of this money going back through the machines and comes with the expense of shedding customers who give up quicker, chasing dreams of jackpots won.

As in New Zealand, the industry needs to ask itself questions.  Are the current policies in the best interest of its customers or do changes need to be made to make the sport more attractive to customers?

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Guilty by Inaction

Remington Park has made it known if any horse who raced at Remington and ends up being slaughtered it will result in the trainer being denied stalls and thus not allowed to race there.  This is on top of the industry creating the Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance.

For all the talk the standardbred industry makes regarding unwanted race horses, the standardbred industry fails miserably.  True, Freehold Raceway, being part of Penn National, has a potential ban in place due to management's implementing bans at its thoroughbred tracks.  After a story broke that Monticello had kill buyer on the grounds on qualifying days, Monticello banned kill buyers from the backstretch but sources have suggested kill buyers have managed to get horses despite those efforts.  Other than these two tracks, it seems standardbred industry has turned its gaze away from this or has tacitly accepted the need of kill buyers (oops, horse buyers) to move out those who can no longer race and make room for new horses.

This is a stand the general public rejects.  The race tracks need to make it clear, disposing of horses by selling or giving them to kill buyers is not acceptable and will get you run out of the business.  As Remington Park has allocated $30,000 a year to have people at horse sales checking tattoo numbers of horses ending up at auctions feeding the slaughterhouses, tracks need to get together and hire people to check tattoos of standardbreds and when one shows up at the auction, follow the chain of custody to see who sent these horses to slaughter.  Tracks need to ban these horse dealers from the backstretches on qualifying days.   Racing commissions must make rules requiring horse dealers to be licensed and not license those who supply the meat market and follow it up with a rule requiring the only horse dealers allowed at training facilities are licensed ones.

Will this solve the entire problem?  One would have to be naive to say so but you don't need to make it easy to feed the slaughter pipeline or look the other way with a wink.  The American public demands it, and they will be the ones attacking purse supplements as well as favoring decoupling in order to put 'cruel' industries out of business.

Speaking of decoupling, the Paulick Report has another story on decoupling and the impact it may be having in Florida.  With the exception of Gulfstream Park, all racing facilities, including Isle of Capri are openly calling for decoupling calling the licenses which allowed them to open poker rooms or slot parlors a burden.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Standardbred memorabilia benefit auction for Horse Rescue United

Howell, NJ --- Starting Tuesday (Jan. 12), a variety of Standardbred racing collectibles will be auctioned off to benefit Horse Rescue United, a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization based in New Jersey.

The rescue specializes in rehabbing and retraining Standardbred horses and has saved more than 60 horses, mainly Standardbreds, since March 2010.

Items up for bid include shoes worn by champions such as Moni Maker and Pinkman, Wiggle It Jiggleit's harness pad, shadow roll and fuzzies, David Miller and Dan Dube's colors, gloves worn by Corey Callahan, and much more.

To participate in the auction, fans should "like" Horse Rescue United's page at and look for the latest "HRU benefit auction" photo album to come across the page's timeline (or under the Photos tab). Bids should be placed under an item's photo and shipping can be combined on most items.

The auction closes at 11 a.m. (EST) on Sunday (Jan. 17).

HRU's current Standardbred rescue horses include Kaline, who had 202 starts, won 41 times (31 seconds and 26 thirds) and had total earnings of $570,000; Cool Cookie, a retired trotter and former broodmare; and Jessica, a former Amish buggy horse that HRU outbid a kill buyer to save at New Holland.

To learn more about HRU and find photos and videos of all of their current horses,, or to see before and afters, adopter testimonials, fundraisers and the rescue's wish list.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

The Road to Solvalla Goes Through East Rutherford

If you are an owner of a North American trotter and want to compete in the Elitlopp, there is only one sure way to punch your ticket to Solvalla; you need to have your horse compete at the Meadowlands on Sunday, May 8 in the first leg of TVG FFA Series for trotters.  Yes, Sunday, May 8, in a special matinee program starting at 1:10pm.

The Elitlopp Playoff, is limited to the 12 trotters with the highest earnings (3yos and up) in 2015-16 which enter the race.  If more than 10 horses drop in, the race will be contested at 1 1/8 miles.  10 horses or less and the race goes at the standard mile race.

Of course, if you want an automatic entry into the Elitlopp, be prepared to race without trotting hopples and furomeside (Salix) because neither are allowed in the Elitlopp.

So we learn the barn at Classy Lane had no sprinkler system or smoke detectors.  This doesn't surprise me as we have seen too many barn fires involving race horses and pleasure horses.  What I want to know is why don't we learn from our mistakes and improve the fire protection systems?  It should be a requirement if you operate a public barn facility, you need to have some type of fire detection or protection system(s) installed in order to take in outside horses.  Will this be the fire which changes all that?  I tend to doubt it.

Here is a video from Hawthorne where they explain why they have brought harness racing back to their facility.  It's worth a look.

They Tore Down a Grandstand to Put Up a RV Parking Lot

by Peter Lawrence, VFTRG Contributor

Yet ANOTHER link to harness racing's past is gone as the "Syracuse Mile" grandstand at the New York State Fairgrounds was demolished on Saturday, 

Demolition of New York State Fair Grandstand (Screen print courtesy of WGRZ)

Well, it was carnage to me.
Incidentally, the news story accompanying the video of the demolition never even mentions  there ever was any harness racing at Syracuse, just concerts (Ed. note: The grandstand is being replaced with a parking lot for recreational vehicles).
I attended the race meet there - which was mostly New York Sire Stakes races, plus time trials and a big race for 3YOs originally called the Empire State Trot, later rechristened in memory of Dr. Harry Zweig - several times, maybe five or six, over the years.
In addition to the state-bred contests, there usually was an overnight Invitational pace with a nominal purse, something like $5,000, and it often attracted much better horses than one might expect, since the track was so fast and speedy lifetime marks were still sought and prized in those days.
I'm pretty sure I saw Merger (John Campbell) win that Invite in 1:53 in 1982, shortly before he won the Little Brown Jug. I believe Niatross (Clint Galbraith) also won the Invite in 1980.
I wasn't there for that Niatross race, but I did see one or two Empire State Trots, which were open events. I think I saw Bonefish (Stanley Dancer) win the inaugural in 1975.
I think I also saw Count's Pride (Bill Haughton) win it in '78, and Little League (Hakan Wallner) and Jazz Kosmos (Mickey McNichol) take splits in '82.
By 1977, the the Empire State was the Zweig Memorial.
The Empire State/Zweig, raced at Syracuse from 1975-2002 and in '04-'05 (per the USTA's "Trotting & Pacing Guide"), was also won in front of the huge metal fairgrounds grandstand by such stars as Tropical Storm (Ralph Baldwin), Cold Comfort (Peter Haughton), Count's Pride (Bill Haughton), Chiola Hanover (Jimmy Allen), Final Score (Tom Haughton), Duenna (Dancer), Napoletano (Bill O'Donnell), Armbro Goal (Berndt Lindstedt), Park Avenue Joe (Ron Waples), Alf Palema (Campbell), American Winner (Ron Pierce), Tagliabue (Campbell), Moni Maker (Wally Hennessy) and Yankee Glide (Lindstedt).
In 1978, when I was working for the Haughton stable, a nondescript Albatross filly I rubbed named Merry Me took a time-trial mark at Syracuse of, I think, 1:58-1/5, fairly speedy at the time, with Peter Haughton in the bike.
That was probably the last time I saw Peter, who died about a year and a half later.
So, yeah, the Syracuse fairgrounds, which hasn't hosted harness racing for quite a few years now, was once host to a veritable Who's Who of stellar horses and horsemen and horsewomen. (Ed. Note - While the last harness meet was contested in 2005, the last auto race, which shared the track, was contested last year.)
In earlier days, like maybe the 1920s or '30s - yes, there WAS a time before my time - drivers like Ben White, Sep Palin, Tom Berry, Will Caton, Doc Parshall, Henry Thomas and others were yearly Syracuse regulars.
And I'm reminded by the ever-vigilant Rob Goldstein that the famed Hambletonian was raced at Syracuse, not once but twice ... the very first one in 1926, then again on 1928, according to the "Trotting & Pacing Guide."
Jeez Louise, just last year (it was last year, right?), we shared the sorrow of the Hollywood Park grandstand demolition - and, of course, the same prior fates of Liberty Bell, Brandywine, Sportsman's, Greenwood, Roosevelt, Garden State and others - and now, it's Syracuse.
Those weren't just harness racing venues, they were practically holy places, our temples, our cathedrals.
Ouch, we've lost another one.

Friday, January 8, 2016

Alberta on the Ropes

There is uncertainty in the future of racing in Alberta as the province has not yet renewed the memo of understanding which allocates slot revenue to racing.  The MOU expires in March.  Failure to have a MOU will bring racing to a halt at Northlands Park for both breeds as well as the relatively new Alberta Downs.

Another year, another story on how Scarborough Downs is on the ropes.  There is an attempt underway for a referendum to allow another casino in Maine.  There is talk of a potential buyer who may wish to by Scarborough to have a racino attached to it while there is speculation the person who wishes to have the casino may press for a stand alone casino which would have no connection to the track, putting it out of business.

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

I really haven't talked about the tragic fire at Classy Lane Training Centre because there is little to be said.  It is great the racing community comes together to support those impacted by the fire, but one has to wonder if a greater effort was spent towards fireproofing barns (as well as one can), we can avoid the need to fundraise for those effected.  If you haven't yet made a donation and wish to do so, there are GoFundMe fundraisers to benefit those who lost their racing stock at Classy Lane.

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Welcome Back Hawthorne

After years of being denied a harness meet by the IRB, Hawthorne resumes it harness racing tradition by default with the bankruptcies of Balmoral Park.  To commemorate the return of the standardbreds, I have handicapped the initial 10 race slate.

Team Allard has headed out to the Midwest to try their luck at Hawthorne while Joe Anderson returns to his old stomping grounds; it will be interesting to see how they do.  Something to keep in mind is with the last thoroughbred race being contested on January 2, there was little time to convert the track over so it may not have fully settled.  With the short turn around, there was no opportunity for these horses to qualify at Hawthorne so we will be seeing everyone making their first appearance over the oval.

Just a note, Hawthorne is uncoupling entries with common ownership so you may see the same owner with two horses in the same race such as in race 7.

Here are the selections:

1st Pace - $5,000; $5,000 Claiming
  1  Cool Like That (S. Allard, 5-2) - Nice qua at Monti.  Only concern is dropping 50% in price.  Wins or finishes up the track.
  5  BC's Bad Cat (Leonard, 15-1) - Tried to wire field and paid price.  Look for a trip which puts him in race. Upset chance.
10  Major Male (Smolin, 9-2) - Used the passing lane to win last; steps up.
  2  Another Beauty (Widger, 10-1) - Won non-winners claiming in last start and move up.

2nd Pace - $5,000; Non-winners of 1PM
1  Ocaptain Mycaptain (Leonard, 2-1) - Close second from post 10.  Draws rail, must consider.
2  HTH Lynn Roy (Carpenter, 6-1) - Needs to get away near front to factor in.  Drops from nw2 claimer.
4  Trixsen Gram (Loney, 7-2) - Figures to ride rail; must get away quickly.
5  Fox Valleyrichrokr (Widger, 5-1) - Used twice in last.  Share with trip.

3rd Pace - $4,000; $4,000 Claiming NW (State owned or bred)
5  Bell Valley Tiger (Carpenter, 3-1) - Just missed in last and drops down to non-winners.  Logical choice.
7  Richess Nestor (R Warren, 9-2) - Drops back to competitive class.  May land share.
1  Darin Skippie (Seekman, 15-1) -  Toss last.  Expect to take advantage of rail.
9  Dunside Art (Widger, 4-1) - Drops.  Wait for inside post.

4th Pace - $4,000; NW $1,000 Last 5 Starts (State owned or bred)
6  Heavenly Knox (Hiteman, 8-1) - Been off form but highest money earner in 2015.  Minor upset chance.
8  Powerful Pilot (Widger, 2-1) - Public fave drops down but not worth a play at 2-1.
2  Memory King (Carpenter, 6-1) - Threat from inside post.  Don't ignore.
3  Tim's Finale (Wilfong, 15-1) - Went overland route in last and finished 3rd.  Must play in exotics.

5th Pace - $5,500; Non-winners of 2PM
3  Always Kenzer (Warren, 5-1) - Just missed in last and takes drop.
7  Eddie Eddie Eddie (Widger, 8-1) - Better post gives him a fighting chance.
1  Parklane Indy (Leonard, 9-2) - Winner of two straight moves out of claiming ranks.  Could win it all if top picks falter..
8  Bayside Tequilla (Hiteman, 12-1) - Drops but moves out.  Share with a trip.

6th Pace - $6,000; Non-winners of 3PM or $12,500 Lifetime
  8  Lotta Richess (Seekman, 15-1) - Steps up off 2 move victory.  Looking for upset here.
  5  Party Falls (Carpenter, 3-1) - Winner of last; been consistent.  Figures to compete for victory.
  4  Sir Arthur D (Leonard, 15-1) - Figures to look for trip.  Lands share with good trirp.
10  Say It Aint So (Stalbaum, 5-1) - Post hurts chances for victory.  Must use in exotics.

7th Trot - $10,000; Winners Over $8,000 in 2015 Handicap
7  KY Lucky (Curtin, 15-1) - Won in cheaper but looks like has some back class.    Going for upset.
2  Hudson Jesse (Leonard, 6-1) - Winner of 3 out of last 4.  Can win it all.
8  Smoother Ride (Allard, 5-2) - Shipper drops in class.  Likely in the money.
5  JB Oui Oui (Warren, 4-1) - Anderson trainee ships in off a win.  Don't leave out of exotics.

8th Pace - $8,000; Non-winners of $6,000 Last 5 Starts or 6PM Lifetime
  4  A Stitch In Time (Allard, 3-1) - Just missed at Meadowlands.  Should find these slightly easier.
  2  Uncle Bud (Hiteman, 15-1) - Couldn't capitalize on cover trip.  Look to see more aggressive drive.
10  Company Man (R Warren, 15-1) - Returns from Canada and back in same class.  Possible share with trip.
  1  Somestarsomewhere (Widger, 8-1) - Fits class like a glove.  Lands share.

9th Pace - $9,000; FM Non-winners of $8,000 Last 5 Starts or 8PM Lifetime
9  Bittersweet Dreams (Curtin, 8-1) - Ships in from New York and drops down.  Note 1 month layoff.
8  Just By Design (Leonard, 8-1) -   Massive effort in last.  Similar effort can win it here.
1  All Pink (Carpenter, 10-1) -  Winner of last two deserves a look in this higher class.
3  Lovethewayyoulook (Wilfong, 3-1) - Hoosier horse won Chi-town debut.  May improve this rating.

10th Pace - Non-winners of $2,500 Last 5 Starts 
9  Skim The Top (Harmon, 8-1) - Huge class drop.  Wins or up the track.
2  Montero Blue Chip (Widger, 5-1) - Expect another wire-to-wire attempt. Consider.
4  Charlie B (Thompson, 9-2) - Rosecroft shipper makes things interesting here.
7  Jackson Berlow (Warren, 7-2) - Tough effort in last. Repeat lands share.
3  Rejoiceandbeglad (Carpenter, 8-1) - 8yo altered son of Cole Muffler fits class.  Include in Jackpot High Five.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Let's Head to the Festival

Let's face it, to the experienced bettor, there is little reason to attend the races at most racetracks.  A lot of racino tracks are built for the casino player in mind with little regard to the horseplayer.  ADWs offer rebates while the majority of tracks offer little financial incentive to wager on track and for the player who wagers on multiple tracks at the same time, nothing beats sitting in front of your own computer to control the signal you want to see at what time.

Some people claim we need to get these players back to the track and while it is an admirable goal, the fact is it may be a fool's effort to get them to show up except for a special occasion.  Tracks would be wise to invest the money they would spend on getting the old bettors back and use this money to form their own ADWs to get a larger share of the revenue which they are losing to existing ADWs.

So what should tracks do if they stop trying to get back the long time horseplayer?  Should they just close their grandstand/clubhouse and race for those wagering through ADWs and the Internet?  I would say no; it is time to use their facilities to attract new handicappers and possibly make their facilities a profit center.

One way tracks can try to attract new fans and gamblers is to adopt the festival model which is used successfully down in Australasia.  Take the upcoming festival at the Roxburgh Trotting Club.  The track goes all out to put on an event for adults and children for a day at the races so there is something for everyone, people willing to pay an admission fee to enjoy the day at the races.  The one difference would be whereas meetings in Australasia are a racing day, North American tracks tend to be open for extended periods of time so it would make sense to have festivals for a week or two at a time.   With a festival set up, tracks would not only be introducing people to horse racing, they will bring in income to help the bottom line.

Monday, January 4, 2016

How Some Trainers Fared in 2015

Eight of the top 25 trainers on the 2015 money list saw their stables earn less than they had in 2014, including the top two. Ron Burke fell more than $3.4 million short of last year’s record haul, which amounts to a 12% drop. His charges made 217 fewer starts which generated 108 fewer wins. Rules limiting participation by a single trainer in the Levy and Matchmaker at Yonkers, as well as the stakes raced at the Gural tracks would account for some of that. Burke’s UTRS dropped from 0.356 to 0.341. That being said, he was still almost $12 million ahead of second place Jimmy Takter.

Takter’s earnings were off 3%, or about $415,000. His horses started 54 fewer times, accounting for nine fewer wins. Burke had 801 more wins than the trot master, but Takter’s six wins on Breeders Crown night, in addition to eleven other checks from his starters, amounted to a record $2.69 million banked on a single card and secured a second consecutive Trainer of the Year award for him.

Number three Rene Allard had a remarkable year. 186 more starts led to 114 more wins and $2.2 million more than his barn earned in 2014, when he finished eighth on the list. Allard got 40% of his wins and half his money from Yonkers Raceway, where he won at a remarkable 25.8% clip. Being excluded from the Gural tracks obviously didn’t put a strain on his bottom line. Allard took $3.1 million out of Yonkers; only nine other drivers in North America earned that much overall for the year. His UTRS jumped from 0.340 to 0.393, which is higher than that achieved but all but two trainers in the top 50—with one of them being low volume Clyde Francis.

Tony Alagna made a significant jump from number seven to number four, as his barn earned $673,000 more than in 2014. And that’s while winning 14 fewer races on 62 fewer starts. His UTRS remained at a strong 0.336.

Bamond Racing grabbed the fifth spot, although Jeff Bamond Jr was the trainer of record, while PJ Fraley filled that role in 2014. Bamond’s horses made 216 fewer starts, accounting for 34 fewer wins, but their bankroll grew by $304,000—up 7%. Like Allard, Bamond thrived at Yonkers, as he accrued 60% of his earnings and 77% of his wins at that track.

Gilbert Garcia-Herrera, who checked in at number six, up three spots from 2014, was very busy in 2015. His charges made 578 more starts, giving him 70 more wins and more than a million dollars more in purse money. The latter represents a 25% uptick from last year. Like Allard, his name has been permanently expunged from Jeff Gural’s holiday greeting card list, but he’s thriving nonetheless. He races quite a bit in Pennsylvania, but he was number five at Yonkers, the source of 36% of his earnings and 27% of his wins. With all those extra starts his UTRS dipped from 0.361 to 0.318.

Julie Miller dropped back one spot to seventh. Her barn earned $375,000 less than last year on 29 fewer wins. Her UTRS dropped from 0.348 to 0.311.

Ake Svanstedt, who advanced nine spots to number eight, upped his earnings by $1.1 million, or 34%, on 196 more starts and 34 more wins. There was life after Sebastian.

Brian Brown also made a dramatic leap, from number 22 in 2014 to number nine this year. His bankroll grew by 38%--up $1.3 million. Brown won 37 more races on 122 more starts and his UTRS increased from 0.345 to 0.375. Lost For Words couldn’t quite get over the hump in the open class, but he still banked almost $700,000.

Virgil Morgan Jr, who is reaping the benefits of the Midwestern revival, remained at number ten. His earnings increased by just about $700,000, or 11%.

Erv Miller dropped eight spots to number 11. He had 52 fewer wins on 236 fewer starts and his money was down by a third--$1.5 million less. Miller’s UTRS dropped from 0.387 to 0.287. When the highly regarded Travel Playlist hit the wall in his BC elimination and scratched out of the final it was a major disappointment for Miller.

Thanks to the likes of Doo Wop Hanover and Rockeyed Optimist, Steve Elliott saw his earnings jump an impressive 60%--$1.7 million more. The number 12 trainer had 37 more wins on 111 extra starts and saw his UTRS rise from 0.293 to 0.331.

Richard Moreau, the winner of the 2014 O’Brien as well as the training dash championship in Canada this year, dropped back one spot to number 13. Although his earnings jumped by almost $403,000—up 14%. Moreau’s horses only made ten more starts, but they won 32 more races, and his UTRS was up to 0.337 from 0.309.

Thanks to Horse of the Year Wiggle It Jiggleit Clyde Francis, who had no earnings as a trainer in 2014, earned $2.2 million in 2015. 98% of his haul came from Wiggle. Francis averaged seasonal earnings of less than $12,000 the other nine years he trained. He was number 18.

The fact that Bee A Magician won six more races and earned $560,000 more this year helped Nifty Norman jump 16 slots to number 19. His stable upped its earnings by $645,000, which amounts to a 31% increase over last year.

Number 20 Richard Banca, who is another one not welcome at any of Jeff Gural’s parties, saw his bankroll grow by a startling 77% in 2015. He upped his stake by $1.6 million. The forty-year-old Banca, who acquired 93% of his money at Yonkers, won 119 more races on 539 more starts. The number three trainer at Yonkers, he won at a superb 24.9% rate. It’s been a decade since he last eclipsed the $2 million mark.

Casie Coleman, who was number four on last year’s trainer’s money list, falls all the way to number 23 this year. Her earnings are down $2.6 million dollars, or 58%.

Dr. Ian Moore, whose State Treasurer just won a Dan Patch, moved up 25 spots to number 24. He realized a $622,000 gain in earnings—34%--and sported a splendid UTRS of 0.440.

Chris Beaver, who was successful in the Ohio and Ontario Sire Stakes programs, jumped 16 rungs to number 35. His account grew by $258,000.

Jim Campbell, who posted his 1,000 training win in July, saw his earnings go up by 27% this year, as he earned $430,650 more than he did in 2014. And his UTRS rose from 0.282 to 0.337.

Tom Fanning added $300,000 to his earnings—up 21% from last year—and landed in slot 39 on the money list.

Thanks to Wakizashi Hanover and Purrfect Bags Jo Ann Looney-King upped her earnings by a million dollars and moved up to slot 41.

About a third of the trainers on the top 50 money list were not on it last year.

Joe FitzGerald




A Word from United Florida Horsemen

The following is a press release from United Florida Horsemen.  I am reprinting it here because of the battle the Standardbred horsemen at Pompano Park are dealing with along with the rest of the racing industry.  As important as the battle in Florida is, success of the Decoupling forces in Florida will set off an assault on racing in other states.


NoDecoupling Masthead

Some Say the Battle for Florida's Gambling Market Could Be Fought at the County Level

Nearly 10,000 licensed Florida racehorse owners, trainers and breeders who live, work and do business in each of Florida's counties can't take that chance.

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Does the casino industry already have an irrevocable stranglehold on Florida?
That's why United Florida Horsemen is reaching out to our local officials to tell them the futures of our horsemen, their small businesses and the thousands of Floridians we employ statewide are on the chopping block in the 2016 Florida Legislative Session because of "decoupling," an obscure line-item hidden in the Seminole Gaming Compact.
United Florida Horsemen is an advocacy group of Thoroughbred, American Quarter Horse and Standardbred horsemen who do business in Florida. We're also voters, residents, taxpayers, parents and neighbors. We oppose decoupling because it will kill our business and put our horsemen out of work--precisely what Big Casinos want.
So, we're asking you to take time to get the facts and tell our Florida legislators to stand against decoupling--a full-scale gambling expansion in disguise that would ultimately eliminate Florida's longstanding and top-ranked horse racing and breeding industry. While lawmakers debate the merits of using taxpayer dollars to lure out-of-state corporations, the irony of allowing "decoupling" to gift Big Casinos with our economic development funds and simultaneously kill profitable businesses that have been here for decades must be addressed.
"Now, many in Tallahassee are being urged to embrace decoupling, which would allow for a vast expansion of casino-style gambling in our state with little direct economic return. In fact, it would most likely lead to a huge economic loss for the state . . . Decoupling would allow for vast expansion of gambling with no benefit to anyone buy gambling corporations."
Learn more at, click on the ad below to view full size and read the updates below.
Florida's horse racing industry is consistently ranked among the top two states. Decoupling will eliminate our competitive edge and any reasons for investors to do business here.


Florida horsemen are gravely concerned that “decoupling” will trigger a statewide gambling avalanche, extract money out of Florida’s economy and siphon it back to Big Casinos, disabling our heretofore successful horse racing industry from competing for business with other, more horse racing-friendly states. "Decoupling" tells potential investors that “Florida is closed for business.”

In Case You Missed It

* Opposition to Florida Decoupling Plan Expands, the Blood Horse Notes
National Horsemen Warn Florida Policymakers "Decoupling" Would Cause Substantial Economic Loss
Florida Standardbred Breeders and Owners Association Joins
Florida Well-Represented at Prestigious 2015 Breeders’ Cup, Thanks to Continued Live Racing Days, Competitive Purse Incentives
Decoupling Could Kill Florida’s Horse Industry, Ocala Star-Banner Editorial Board Writes
Meet the World-Famous Florida Horsemen Who Oppose Decoupling: The McKathan Brothers Taught Triple Crown Winner American Pharoah How to Be a Racehorse
SNL Financial Founder Reid Nagle Voices Opposition to Florida Horse Racing Decoupling
Read What National Horse Racing Media Has To Say About Florida's Misguided "Decoupling" Proposal
Florida Could “Decouple” Horse Racing, Breeding Right Out of Business
Florida Horsemen Launch
* Florida's Hamilton “Downs” Relinquishes Jai Alai Pari-Mutuel Permit as Litigation Begins Over Horse-Related Pari-Mutuel Violations
* Florida and the Pharoah Impact