For photos from the Meadowlands contact

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Coordinating Race Dates; USTA Rule Changes

Odds are the streak of $3 million handles comes to an end at the Meadowlands this Friday night as the opening of Saratoga Raceway has caused the return of short fields and fewer races this weekend.  Fortunately, many races have 9 horses, but 7 horse fields populate some of the races (4 on Fri, 2 on Sat)  this weekend with one less race each day.

As bad as this is, wait till Pocono Downs reopens on March 19 and Harrah's on April 1.  Then who knows how bad it will be?

Something needs to be done about all these racetracks operating at the same time.  I am all for competition, but to have these many tracks racing at one time benefits no one in the long run with the exception of the horsemen who like short fields as they have less horses to beat to get a check of some kind.  While there may be fewer horses to beat to cash a check, handles will drop and will be used as evidence racing has become less popular, making it easier for opponents to decouple racing from slots.

A committee is being formed at the USTA  to see if schedules can be coordinated. If this committee can be a honest broker, so be it but it is a shame the tracks can't work it out among themselves.  Good luck in getting Yonkers to alter their year-round schedule.

For any negotiation regarding schedules to be successful, all parties must be willing to realign their schedules.  An exception to this would be the Meadowlands which would need at least a short meet to accommodate the Hambletonian which is contractually bound when it must race, but otherwise must be flexible as to when it will race.

As a result of the rule changes approved by the USTA, horses will  have to qualify if they didn't race within 60 days.  Of course, if they don't meet the qualifying time or show consecutive breaks, they may still need to qualify earlier.  Some tracks have a 30 day or 45 day qualifying rule at present, so assuming the track(s) you follow adopt the 60 day rule, the impact may be more significant to you.

The 60 day rule does muddy things up for handicapper, but with higher caliber standardbreds being raced more like thoroughbreds, you often see them racing with longer gaps between starts.  Handicappers will need to go back further in a horse's racing lines to see how they do with these gaps to see if they are ready to fire first time back or need a start or two to get back to racing form.

There was a rule change approved requiring county fairs which chart their races to provide the same information as pari-mutuel tracks.  Depending where you live, there may or maybe an impact.  Tracks which don't chart races won't be impacted.

Another rule change was approved to denote which races have recalls.  More information is good for the handicapper but with recalls occurring so infrequently, I suspect this information will be of little use.

One rule change which should have been approved is the one which would have banned two year olds from racing two days in a row.  This proposal was submitted with fair circuit horses in mind.  Regardless of circuit, two year olds have no business racing two days in a row.

In case you missed it, the Tabcorp Miracle Mile was held this past Sunday at Menangle Park in Australia and it was an exciting race and finish.  The winner was Have Faith in Me in a new Australasian record of 1:47.6 for the mile.  You can find the race here.


Anonymous said...

There are reasons to support Jeff Gural's many ideas to improve the sport and weed out the bad things, but a USTA committee to deal with short fields at tracks in NJ won't change anything in NY and PA. Owners and trainers go where the best money is for the ability of their horses. Right now, that means NY and PA.

It's not Mr. Gural's fault, but operators in nearby states also remember when the Meadowlands was top dog under different management. The big track showed no concern for the problems elsewhere.

The sport as a whole would be better if Monticello, Saratoga, Tioga and Vernon coordinated dates better so there is less competition for horses among those tracks. Same goes for Harrah's Philadelphia and the Downs at Mohegan Sun Pocono where they should not race at the same time of year. Why not expand to a 12-month schedule between them? Of course, none of that helps the Meadowlands.

Anonymous said...

Here is the way I see it.
Right now, harness racing has momentum. I know that The Meadowlands resurgence is part of the reason. How much I do not know. Does the Meadowlands $3,000,000 handles bring players to other tracks?
I play a lot of tracks. Sunday night Cal Expo did 52,000 on their Pick 4 pool and Wednesday night the Pick 4 pool at Northfield and Pompano was over 20,000. These are sensational numbers. Is the Meadowlands part of the reason? In my opinion, yes. Their success is spilling over to other harness tracks on the nights The Meadowlands does not race.
But what happens if The Meadowlands falters? Do the bigger players simply go to other harness tracks on Friday and Saturday? I think not. The more likely scenario is that they move to the thoroughbreds with their larger pools. Then what? The wagering on the sport starts caving in not only on Friday and Saturday, but eventually on the other days as well.
So the question is does a healthy Meadowlands help the handle at other tracks? In my opinion there is no doubt that it does. If these other tracks are remotely interested in the health and future of the industry ,a little less racing would make these other tracks a lot more playable.