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Saturday, April 30, 2016

A Scandal Whimpering Out?

Remember the big news of New York State ensnaring some big name trainers with Glaucine positives; a scandal which spread to New Jersey to see what would happen to trainers of a certain track operator?  Would this case provide evidence of equal justice or show favoritism being played out when it came to exclusions?

In case you forget, at the time the initial story broke, Jeff Gural had specified horses owned or trained by those originally named re-tested and pending those results, was waiting for New York to act.  It now appears he was right to handle this scandal in this manner. 

Late Thursday, Harnesslink reported, the first three trainers have been named for Glaucine positives were named by NYGCB.  Glaucine is a prohibited substance but it appears for at least these three trainers , there was no proof the substance being administered either accidentally or deliberately.  As of now, the only action taken by the racing board is to disqualify the horses and order purse funds paid returned.  

Clearly if the horses raced with a prohibited substance it would have been unfair to the others in the race if the horses weren't placed last and the funds not restored to be redistributed.  It also would have been unfair to penalize the trainers if the horses had positives due a circumstance out of their control.  Hence it seems the board acted with the judgement of Solomon.

Of course, the question some may be asking is what about the other trainers named through the grapevine?   Is it each trainer's case is being handled individually and their cases have yet to be adjudicated?  What will happen if trainers are unable to submit proof of environmental contamination?

We shall see but I suspect when all is said and done, this big-time scandal will end with a whimper.

A new way to encourage better racing in eliminations?  While we aren't discussing the eliminations of the Dexter Cup (with regards to handicapping) being contested today at Freehold, it is interesting to note instead of the traditional 50%-25-12-8-5 purse distribution, the eliminations will be contested using a distribution of 60%-25-8-5-2.  Perhaps the increase in the winner's share and reduction in the purse for 3rd through 5th will be enough to get those who may only race to advance more incentive to be more competitive.

Balmoral to be Resurrected?  SC reports the auction for the assets of Balmoral Park has been suspended as an offer came in on the day of the auction for Balmoral Park; lock, stock, and barrel.  It is unknown at this time who the bidider is but by May 3rd we should know if a savior to the track really does exist.

Friday, April 29, 2016

Gural Rebuked

As per Harness Racing Weekend Preview, the USTA Executive Committee has voted to no longer fund out-of-competition testing by a vote of 16-1.  The committee decided they'll support out-of-competition testing only through regulators where due process rights are preserved and there is no USTA funding.

No doubt this is a strong rebuke of Jeff Gural's out-of-competition testing as some directors have been vocal opponents of his program and the banishment of trainers using his exclusionary rights.  Odds are this will not change Gural's program; it will just require Gural to pick up the balance formerly paid for by the USTA and make him wonder why he ever stepped in to rescue the Meadowlands in the first place.

The USTA certainly has the right not to fund any out-of-competition testing, but being this program was part of the USTA's approved budget for this year, they should have honored any requests for payment this year.  What would have been more appropriate is to have voted to end the program after this fiscal year.  Alas, what is done is done.

Wouldn't it be wonderful if out-of-competition testing by regulators would be the end all and there would be no need for a track operator's own program and the use of the exclusionary rule?  Yes, it would.  How well have commission programs worked up to now?  Not very well.  With the ability to appeal and obtain injunctions from the courts, wrongdoers can continue to train at your local raceway;  in the most extreme cases for years or until the racing commission decides to cut a deal.

The out-of-competition program Jeff Gural has implemented has some people claiming foul.  They claim who gets tested and excluded is arbitrary; those in favor get to race while those out of favor get excluded.  It is true the exclusionary rule has the potential to be abused but when you look at who is out at the Meadowlands, it seems excluding some trainers with large barns goes against the Meadowlands' own self interest especially when you consider how hard it is to draw a race program there.

What the answer is I don't know.  The problem is the way the regulatory system is set up, it favors the trainer over the gambler while Gural's process seems to favor the punter over the trainer.  There needs to be a way to marry the two processes so the horseplayers' and trainers' interests are equally protected.  Perhaps the USTA and racing commissions can come up with a process which treats both the trainers' and gamblers' interests equally.

That would be something worth working towards.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Saratoga Casino and Raceway, RIP

So Saratoga Casino and Raceway is no more.  In a decision to re-brand the racino in anticipation of competition from a new casino opening in Schenectady in March, officials rolled out a new name, Saratoga Casino Hotel.  No mention of racing in the new name.

Needless to say horsemen are not pleased. They fear track management may be de-emphasizing racing despite management's assertion racing is part of the entertainment package they will be offering at their facility; it's just necessary to emphasize the fact there is a resort hotel making it clear to the public Saratoga Casino Hotel is a full-fledged destination resort not just a day trip racino.

Quite honestly, horsemen really don't have a leg to stand on.  Sooner or later, this is what happens when you make a deal with the devil.  Horsemen have their slot-fueled purses and in return, management does what it feels is best in managing their property.  Besides, if typical of other harness raceways on non-event days, the tarmac and grandstand makes it clear people are not there for the racing so in many ways it makes sense operators of racinos tend to minimize the promotion of racing.

Eighteen horses drop in for the Dexter Cup eliminations at Freehold Raceway and as typically is the case, there will be three divisions of six horses each instead of having two splits with a trailer in each.  I understand the desire of being on the gate in eliminations (and finals), but especially at non-slot tracks, handle is what drives profitability.  Can these two be reconciled?  How about a compromise?    Write in the stakes conditions if eliminations will reduce fields to six horses, the eliminations will be contested with a trailer at a distance of 1 1/4 miles.  By adding a quarter mile, there will be more opportunity for trailers to get into the race.   Not a perfect solution for horsemen, but if they are sincere in wanting racing to live longer, they need to assist management in maximizing revenue wherever possible.

Over at the HANA Harness blog, there is a posting which discusses further the starting gate issue from the prior week's race at Pocono Downs and asks the question, "Are gamblers numb to bad calls?".  The posting also is conducting an unscientific poll.  Why not read the article and have your say?  

The 2016 Thunder Ridge Racing 21 day harness meet is underway and needless to say, no positive records are being set on the handle front in Prestonburg, Kentucky.  For example, last Thursday's five race card brought in a total handle of $10; no one bet the first two races while $6 was wagered on race three and $2 each on the last two tilts.   Handle was much better on Friday with $106 wagered,

While I realize Kentucky horsemen need every opportunity to earn purse money, the only response I can have with regards to holding this meet is "Really?"  What does it cost to have the tote equipment at the track to handle the one tote machine needed to handle the wagers?  Certainly more than what is made on a $106 handle.  If not for the exception of being able to have OTB offices, it would make more sense to get rid of wagering and just run these events as fair races.

Friday, April 22, 2016

Previewing the Levy and Matchmaker Finales; Exchange Wagering News

Saturday night, Yonkers Raceway hosts the finales for the Blue Chip Matchmaker and the George Morton Levy Memorial Pacing Series for FFAllers.  In addition to lucrative finals, there is one consolation race for each series plus an event for Levy Series eligibles, horses which started in the Levy but didn't advance to either the consolation or final.

As customary, I am providing my selections for these races for your consideration.  Best of luck to all.

Yonkers 5th Pace - $50,000; George Morton Levy Series Eligibles
4 - Te Kawau N (Brennan, 9-2) - Has been close in last two starts, knocking on door.  Fave starts on outside.  Worthy play.
8 - Letucerockthem A (Sears, 9-5) - Winner in last start.  Would be pick but for the post.  Lands share
1 - Foiled Again (Gingras, 3-) - Winless thus far in 2016.  Not the same as in past but must use in exotics.

Longshot play - #2 Royal Heart - 20-1 shot is better since dropping out series.  Thundered home in last to make up five lengths.  Add to exotics to spice up price; possibly a win wager if no value elsewhere.

Yonkers 6th Pace - $75,000; Blue Chip Matchmaker Series Consolation 
4 - Carolsideal (Dube, 3-1) - Finished 3rd in last, costing start in the final.  Post position (3) gives her a good chance.
3 - Inittowinafortune (Callahan, 10-1) - Has been hampered with bad post in last two starts.  Expect better performance tonight.
7 - Jungle Genie N (Kakaley, 20-1) - Continues with bad posts.  Should land share despite the handicap.

Yonkers 7th Pace - $309,800; Blue Chip Matchmaker Final
2 - Lady Shadow (Callahan, 7-2) - Racing well.  Closed late in last and benefits from rail.  Worth a shot at these odds.
4 - Sell A Bit N (Stratton, 5-1) - Winner of two legs looks to rebound here.  Figures to land share.
1A - Krispy Apple (Bartlett, 2-1) - Warmed up too late with two straight wins.  Post 8 hurts chances.  Could run out in right situation.
5 - Yagonnakissmeornot (Dube, 5-1) - Another two-leg winner figures in exotics if morning line favorite runs out.

Yonkers 8th Pace - $100,000; George Morton Levy Consolation (No place or show wagering)
7 - Wiggle It Jiggleit (Teague, 7-5) - A nose away from final.  Should lay over these even with bad post.
1 - Melmerby Beach (Macdonald, 15-1) - Rail and possibly slower opening quarter makes this one a possibility to spice up exacta price.
4 - Evenin Of Pleasure (Sears, 7-1) - Driver change and improved post gives this one a good chance to hit board.  May better rating.
6 - Ideal Cowboy (Tetrick, 3-1) - Should be flying late.  Must include in supers and other exotics.

Yonkers 9th Pace - $609,000; George Morton Levy Memorial Final (No show or trifecta wagering)
2 (POE) - Bit Of A Legend N (Stratton, 5-2) - Deadheated with WIJI.  Should be clear sailing hear to sweep through series.
3 (POE) - P H Supercam (Bartlett, 9-5) - Two seconds in a row.  Good chance to make it three in a row.
1 (POE)  - Take It Back Tery (Brennan, 8-5) - Will try to wire field.  Expect will get caught again.  Possible to end up in exacta.

New Jersey Residents, circle May 10 on your calendar.  On May 10, exchange wagering debuts in the Garden State and among the initial tracks to be featured is the Meadowlands (If an agreement can be hammered out.  Basically the hold up is how regular wagers using the 4njbets platform at the Meadowlands itself is handled.); Freehold Raceway will not be included on Day 1.  Betfair has provided a simulator for people to try out.   If you live in New Jersey, you may sign up for a newsletter with the latest details regarding exchange wagering.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

What Were They Thinking?

This past Tuesday night at Pocono Downs, there was a race which requires an explanation from the judges.  However, before we discuss the issue, here are a couple of screen captures worth looking at.

Here is a picture of the starting gate going around the first turn before the start of the race in Race 5.

Starting gate in approaching the first turn prior to a start at Pocono Downs in their 5th race on April 19, 2016.

Notice how the starting gate is fully deployed, waiting for the horses to catch up with the gate.  Now, let's look at a picture of the starting gate from the next race.

Starting gate approaching the first turn prior to a start at Pocono Downs in their 6th race on April 19, 2016.

In the 6th race, something is clearly wrong as the starting gate wing for the outside posts didn't fully extend.  For all practical purposes, this is the way the gate was when the field was released on the backstretch.

Why was a recall not called before the field was released and failing that, why wasn't the race declared 'no-contest''?  Clearly the outside horses had an unfair advantage if they decided to leave once the gate opened as it was never fully deployed.

Well, a conversation from a trusted source with the judges the following day indicated the judges in the stand noticed the problem and attempted to communicate to the starter so presumably a recall would be sounded.  However, the starter was supposedly busy with I Wonder Why, who hit the gate in the later run up to the race so the judges' call was never acknowledged, prior to the start.

According to the judge, they let the results stand because they felt it didn't provide anyone an advantage .  Well,, two of the outside horses left (#8 I Wonder Why and #6 Art Frenzy) and I Wonder Why ran out of the money after cutting the first half of the mile, with Art Frenzy  tracking the leader to take the lead when I Wonder Why quit and went on to win the race.

My question is if the judges saw something they felt was necessary to communicate with the starting judge about a possible recall, why was it not significant enough to call a 'no contest' when the race went off without the gate being fixed?  It should be noted there was no inquiry.  Sounds like inconsistent judging to me.

The judges are responsible with protecting the wagering public.  Whether or not it impacted the final outcome of the race, the fact is the outside horses had an unfair advantage.  If this was a thoroughbred race and the six, seven, and eight got released a little earlier than the others at the start, something would have been done about it, likely in the name of the horses being scratched.

The bettors who support Pocono Downs are entitled to an explanation.  Something like this should never happen again

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

So Who and What is GSY?

If you have been following the Meadowlands over the past few years, you have seen amateur races that were titled as GSY Amateur events.  Ever wonder what GSY stands for, who they are, and why they race?  VFTRG had the opportunity to talk to two officers of the GSY Amateur Driving Club, David Glasser and David Yarock, to get some answers. 

The 'Three Daves'; from L-R, 
Dave Offenberg, Dave Yarock, 
David Glasser
The GSY Amateur Series is named after Jeff Gural, Jason Settlemoir, and David Yarock who are the club founders.  The series was established four years ago in an effort to add additional races to the C.K.G Billings Amateur Driving Series.  Originally, the series was centered around Tioga Downs but included several other tracks.  Today though, the series is focused on the Meadowlands even though on occasion they will compete at other area tracks; tracks such as Tioga Downs, Pocono Downs, Monticello Raceway, Harrah's Philadelphia, and Freehold here they are the featured amateur race on Open Space Day..  At this point, GSY's goal is to support the Meadowlands and provide competitive races for amateurs at the most recognized track in the United States.   
Members of GSY after a Billings race at Alex's, across from Batavia 
Downs before heading to the next day's race at Vernon Downs.  
Friends after the race, fierce competitors on the track.  From L-R,
Tony Ciuffetelli, Matt Zuccarello, Dave Drew, David Glasser, Bob
Davis, Tony Verruso. 

Members of GSY belong to other clubs as they look forward to racing as much as possible.  In addition to GSY, many are members of the Freehold Amateur Driving Club as well as NAADA (which races primarily at Monticello, Yonkers, and Freehold) in addition to being members of the CKG Billings series which races nationwide.

The beauty of amateur club racing is it give horse owners and others the opportunity to leave their desk job on a Friday afternoon and head to a track's locker room full of professional drivers, including members of the Hall of Famed Y and compete on the same racetrack.  As to the question of the ability of amateur drivers, there is a misconception as to their ability since 90% of amateurs hold a full license and are able to compete against professionals in regular races.  Glasser pointed out he learned to drive in the 1980's when there were no amateur races, others have followed the same path. Bob Krivlen to name one continues to race against professional drivers with some success, while drivers like Glasser, such as Dein Spriggs, Roy Marohn, Bob Davis, and others who cut their teeth before amateur races were regularly contested raced with regular drivers successfully.    

One may think professional drivers resent the fact these amateur races are on the race card but you would be wrong as many of the pros are supportive of the amateurs.  Just recently GSY and the amateur club at Pompano Park held a Pro-Am at Pompano Park which Dave Miller and Tim Tetrick participated in.  A Pro-Am may be held at the Meadowlands in the fall and some pros have already indicated an interest in participating if one is added to the schedule.  

Winners - David Yarock and David Glasser both 
celebrating victories  at Yonkers Raceway along
 with partner Joel Golub.
With amateurs racing weekly, how do they get the horses to race?  Some drivers provide their own horses but other horses are provided by trainers.  To help pay the expenses for these horses, the purse structure has been modified so every horse earns at least 3% of the purse if they finish out of the money.  The club works with the racing secretary in determining the class of horses which should compete in this series and this year they are racing horses which would fill non-winners of $3,500 in their last five starts with $10,000 claimers also eligible to race in the 'B' series while those who are non-winners of $6,000 in their last five starts with $15,000 claimers racing in the 'A' races which is the same class which will compete on the Billings circuit.  They primary key is to have competitive races so all the horses have a chance to earn money as this is an expensive 'hobby'.

As you know, amateurs don't accept compensation for driving in these races.  So where does the GSY driver commissions go to?  Back in 2009, David Yarock started a scholarship fund in memory of his father and step-father to give scholarships to students seeking to pursue equine and harness racing studies as well as providing scholarships to those in the harness racing industry and their families seeking to pursue higher education.  Since inception, over $150,000 has been distributed in scholarships.  In addition to the driver commissions, annual club dues are also contributed to the fund.  The club seeks racing opportunities to raise funds; the previously mentioned potential Meadowlands Pro-Am will raise additional funds for scholarships.  Further information on the scholarship fund is available here.

The club makes no secret of the fact they work in partnership with the Meadowlands.  They supply races when the Meadowlands needs them.  While the drivers enjoy racing for the sake of racing, they also aim to help the Meadowlands survive.  With the slots-infused tracks drawing horses away from the Meadowlands, GSY helps fill races to complete the racing card.    When GSY races at other tracks, it is either because they wish to support amateur racing and/or have races they need filled.  

From the amount of money being wagered, it appears the punters are pleased with the amateur races being carded on the wagering program.  Glasser feels in some ways having races with amateur drivers is a plus because “anything can happen".  He further feels some of today's gamblers want more random possibilities than the predictable outcomes one sees at many racetracks, citing the popularity of slot machines.  The GSY races have growing pools and less predictable outcomes.  Make no mistake, while fans don't want amateurs to take over an entire card (something done at Monticello Raceway sometime around 2013), they do like the fact amateur racing adds something to a few races on the wagering card.  Of course, racing every week, handicappers have the opportunity to get used to the drivers and their abilities.  When asked if GSY races could be added to Saturday night programs, it was made clear they are satisfied with the ability to race on Fridays.

Dave Yarock always felt amateur racing could have a significant positive effect for the sport and is thoroughly delighted the betting public has embraced GSY races.  With all the negative publicity the sport gets, the industry can be proud of the positive feedback coming out of the amateur driver movement; it is truly a growth area in an otherwise stagnant industry

Of course, the appreciation goes two ways.  The members of GSY appreciate the gamblers support because their wagering is what allows them to continue to race at the Meadowlands.

Asked a hypothetical question if they would consider expanding to racing under saddle should pari-mutuels be approved for the sport, Glasser said it would be interesting to consider but they would have to gauge the interest of track officials and their members to see if there would be any interest in pursuing it.  Of course, there are a lot of things which would have to happen before it would be an issue they would need to visit.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Brand Awareness (or Lack of)

Yesterday, there was an unfortunate 'first' at Century Downs in Alberta, the first horse fatality as a result of a three horse crash in the eighth race, a distinction noted by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC).  

While this tragedy was certainly newsworthy, there was something else notable in the story; something which tells of the problem harness racing has in North America.  It can be summed up by this one line in the story, "It came during Race 8 of the harness races — in which a standardbred horse pulls a driver on a two-wheeled cart".  Thankfully, the story didn't refer to the "jockeys'  injured in the races, another common error by the press.

You never will see a story say "It came during Race 9 of the thoroughbred races - in which a thoroughbred horse has a jockey riding on top".  We can accept the fact people don't care for horse racing of any type or specific breed, but for them not to even know of harness racing's existence is a sad commentary on how far the sport has fallen.  You can't expect to draw the attention of people if they don't know you exist.

It's almost like ketchup.  Here in the states, French's now makes ketchup and is attempting to make a dent into Heinz's market share.  It doesn't matter how good French's product is if people don't know it exists.

Same thing with harness racing.  True, harness racing needs to be a product people would want to 'buy', but no matter how good it may or may not be, it doesn't matter if no one knows about it.  Being an exclusive club doesn't cut it.  People need to be made aware of the brand, otherwise it is all for naught.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Horses Needing a Home

Here is a posting I found on Facebook on the Horse Rescue United page.  There are two reasons I am posting this listing (this won't be a regular practice); to see if these horses can be placed; to show the problem people have finding rescues for their horses.  In this case, the person in possession of these horses will humanely euthanize them rather than send either to a sale where they will face an uncertain future, possibly ending up at a slaughterhouse.

As unpleasant as humane slaughter is, it shows responsible ownership.   It is easy to sell the horse at auction and let someone else deal with an unwanted horse; it's not easy to put down perfectly healthy horses.  Of course, it would be ideal if each owner would have their own farm so their retired horse could live out their lives but this is not the way it works; people in apartments or suburban homes own race horses so it is not practical for them to retire many at boarding facilities.  Even those who have their own farms may not be able to keep their own retiring horses if they are experiencing a particularly bad year racing them.

Anyway, here is the posting.  If interested, contact those listed in the postings directly.


URGENT: HRU only has ONE MONTH to find another rescue, foster or adoptive home or Vicky and Courage will have to be humanely euthanized.
Sadly our small rescue only has so many resources and space available. These horses were heading to be amished and at high risk for kill, but we only have a limited amount of time to assist them.
To offer an adoptive OR foster home, or if you know of a responsible horse rescue with space, please email OR - thank you and please share!

BIG SKY VICKY - 5 year-old 15.3 hand bay Standardbred mare - pleasure driving or trail/pleasure riding (under evaluation)

Vicki is a very sweet horse who can be a bit nervous at times, but has relaxed considerably with the right care.

She has an old suspensory injury that became sore during racing, so she was retired to prevent damage. Perfectly sound for pleasure driving or trail/pleasure riding.

Vicki is not yet evaluated under saddle but likely suited for an intermediate to advanced rider. Great ground manners and good with other horses.
Horse Rescue United's photo.

 FIRE WITH COURAGE- 19 year-old 15.3 hand bay Standardbred gelding - pleasure driving or trail/pleasure riding (under evaluation)

Courage is a laid back, kind horse with a husband type personality. He has been a babysitter to weanlings over the past several years, after having earned $170,000 on the track.

He should make a nice pleasure driving horse and will be evaluated under saddle, likely a nice advanced beginner to intermediate trail/pleasure horse. Great ground manners and good with other horses.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Will New Blood Revitalize the Aged Pacing Division?

Every year it appears that the aged pacing ranks will be energized by an infusion of talent from the newly minted four-year-old class, but it rarely happens. This year may be an exception. Wiggle It Jiggleit will make his fourth start of the year in the fifth leg of the Levy Series on Saturday. He kicked off the season with an effortless 1:51.4 win in a $60,000 invitational at Dover Downs on March 28, a race that probably cost him a spot in the upcoming Levy final, as he missed the first two legs. His second place finish in the third leg of the Levy, from ten off at the half, was very impressive, and he wired the field in the fourth leg.

 Meanwhile, another Indiana bred, Breeders Crown champ Freaky Feet Pete, who beat Wiggle twice last year, has already qualified at Hoosier Park.

And the chronically under- valued Dragon Again gelding, Wakizashi Hanover, who bested Wiggle in the NA Cup and Pete in the Jenna’s Beach Boy, is reported to be prepping for the Graduate Series.

The cherry on the sundae is the Always A Virgin five-year-old, Always B Miki, who only started four times last year, including a dominant thumping of his division rivals in the B C. Since he was so lightly campaigned, I think we can safely lump him in with those expected to introduce new life to the division.

Miki missed most of 2015 to injury, but came back with a vengeance when he qualified in 1:48.2 at The Red Mile at the end of September. That equaled Shark Gesture’s 2010 world record for the fastest qualifier ever. And after a tune-up in an ISS elimination at Hoosier Park, he crushed his peers by three in his BC elimination and by five lengths in the final. A handy win in the Am-Nat closed out his abbreviated season.

There are others, but these are the highest profile newbies, so we’ll concentrate on them.

Gaming dollars have given the breeding business in the Hoosier State a boost, but it still isn’t Pennsylvania. That’s why it’s a pleasant surprise that three of the four horses we’re looking at were bred in Indiana.

During his first four years at stud Wiggles’ sire, Mr Wiggles, bred only 46 mares and that was in three states—Indiana, Ohio and Delaware. Only eight of his offspring raced last year. He is now back in Ohio. The nomadic stallion had only produced a couple of dozen foals all told coming into this year. He covered 42 mares last year, on the heels of his son’s success, so things should improve over time.

Miki’s daddy, the Western Ideal stallion Always A Virgin, is standing his eighth year in Indiana for $4,000. Aside from Miki, he’s also tasted success with Jugette and BC winner Color’s A Virgin as well as the ISS standout Always About Katey. Last year proved to be an aberration for AAV as he had only 26 2YO starters that earned $309,000. Contrast that with Pete’s sire, Rockin Image, who had 62 freshmen start and earn $1.2 million. The latter stands his sixth year in Indiana, also for $4,000. He and AAV are the two highest priced pacing stallions in the state.

Wiggle It Jiggleit is by far the most accomplished of the new additions to the aged pacing ranks. He has demonstrated oodles of speed and class. When he won his second start of 2015—third lifetime—in 1:49.4, while nuking the opposition in a split of the Sonsam at The Meadowlands in February, heads were turning. Later on, in early May, he became the fastest three-year-old pacer ever on a half when he won a condition pace in 1:49 at Harrington. There was no doubt that he had the hops, but would he have the class to carry that speed against the cream of his class on the Grand Circuit? Oh yeah.

 Wins in the Pace and the Jug—the latter a boffo performance—made his reputation as one of the top pacers of this era, and he augmented those triumphs with successful forays in the Hempt, Milstein, Matron and Progress. He joined Captaintreacherous and A Rocknroll Dance as the only three to win the Hempt and Pace. And Wiggle and Beach Towel are the only two to win the Hempt, Pace and Jug (The Hempt was called the Miller Memorial when Beach Towel won it.)

He set a 1:49.3 track record for sophomore pacers when he won the Milstein at Northfield in mid-August. In an age when it’s like pulling teeth to get connections to agree to race their star pupil on a half, Wiggle is poised to make his sixth on Saturday. His overland journey to pluck the Jug from the arms of defeat was reminiscent of Life Sign’s implausible Delaware win.

Of course, he did have a problem holding his lead against the pocketed Wakizashi Hanover in the NA Cup, as he suffered his first lifetime loss. It came at 2-5, a week after pacing away from his elimination field to win by six in 1:49.2. The final went more than a second faster.

And Pete picked him up in the $220,000 ISS Super Final in October at Hoosier Park, and again in the Monument Circle at the end of October. Back in May Wiggle had won the day in an ISS leg.  So, with a 2-1 edge on Wiggle, can we privilege Pete? No. For openers, 24 of Pete’s 27 lifetime starts have been at Hoosier Park, and all but a couple of those have been ISS races. And just as Waki had burst Wiggle’s balloon in the NA Cup, he took down Pete in the Jenna’s Beach Boy at Hoosier Park.

A terrific win in the BC from downtown over a sloppy track is Pete’s gem. But that win, combined with one over a soft field in the Am-Nat at Balmoral, and the other in the Monument Circle, can’t compete with what Wiggle has accomplished in the open realm. He’ll race in the Graduate series and is apparently staked to a few of the aged events, but his connections are not of the George Teague take on all challenges mind set.

The sons of Dragon Again are type cast as geldings that last a long time at a high level and earn lots of money; winning the Grade 1 colt stakes at the apex of our sport is not their forte. Foiled Again and Atochia are a couple of examples. Gryffindor won the Messenger a decade ago and Hugadragon took a split of the Tattersalls Pace, but no son of Dragon Again has won the Meadowlands Pace, Cane, Adios, or, up until 2015, the North America Cup. Wakizashi Hanover, the highest earning Dragon Again colt as a sophomore with $1.2 million, checked that one off when he upset 2-5 Wiggle It Jiggleit off a pocket trip in 1:48 in the final.

While Waki won 11 races and earned $300,000 more than Pete did in 2015, he didn’t take the division by storm—that was Wiggle’s role. But, aside from the cup, Waki also beat Freaky Feet Pete on his home court in the Jenna’s Beach Boy. Between August 28 and October 6 he won five in a row: a split of the PASS at The Meadows, the PASS final at Pocono, a split of the Liberty Bell at Philadelphia, the Jenna’s Beach Boy at Hoosier Park and a split of the Keystone Classic at The Meadows. He finished third in the Pace and the Milstein; second in the Battle and fourth in the Hempt. Waki always had his hoof out for a check.

Wiggle, who was held out of the first two legs of the Levy, is a lottery-grade longshot to make the final in Saturday’s fifth leg. He has a much better chance to make the consolation, which went for $429,000 less than the final last year. Regardless, he’ll then move on to the elimination round for the Confederation Cup at Flamboro Downs on May 8 and probably the Graduate Series after that.

Always B Miki qualifies at The Meadowlands on Saturday. It will probably be tough for him to find races until the Roll With Joe at Tioga on June 19. The Molson is at the end of May, but the five-year-old has never started on a half so it’s unlikely he wants anything to do with that little track.

Pete’s connections apparently want to get him a couple of races at Hoosier Park? It’s on to the Graduate after that, I guess. Waki is also being pointed to the Graduate.

Joe FitzGerald



Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Uncoupling to Increase Field Size

A new rule change has been implemented in New Jersey to allow a trainer to drop two horses into the same race condition, provided they have separate ownership leading to the possibility the trainer may end up with two horses in the same race.  Of course, the race secretary will still seek to seed stablemates into different divisions if a race is split.  This rule change has been a source of great debate on social media.  Some accept it for what it is, others worry about the integrity of the races; the possibility of teaming (helping a stablemate) or worrying it will turn bettors away due to the perception of what may happen.  

The fact is the rule change is needed for the Meadowlands to function successfully for the balance of the meet.  The shortage of horses in the region coupled with the preference of trainers to race at tracks with slot-infused purses has left the Meadowlands having a hard time to assemble race cards; sometimes keeping the box open hours after it was supposed to close.  Even with the new rule, out of 24 races this weekend, only 4 races are set to go with a full field;  9 races with 9 starters, 7 with 8 starters, and 4 with 7 starters.  As the season goes deeper when Tioga and Vernon Downs opens, without the rule change the Meadowlands will have to go lower than the $7,500 claimers and/or even face the problem of not being able to put a full race card together.  The fact is more horses in competitive races provides for bigger handle.  As field sizes drop, so does handle.  For a non-slots track, it is essential the Meadowlands gets the largest handle possible.

So what about the punters?  It is possible novices will be turned off by the perception of collusion especially when they see a 10-1 horse beat out its 8-5 stablemate?  It is quite possible.  However, it should be remembered the horses will be owned by different people.  Do you think an owner will be happy seeing their horse used to help another horse costing them purse money?  Do you think a driver will appreciate going out on the track earning no money by helping out another driver?  Not very likely.

Make no mistake, a trainer will not be happy to see a driver hanging out a fellow stablemate for no reason so it is not realistic to think the drivers of two stablemates will play hardball with each other but any experienced punter should be able to factor this into their handicapping.  

No doubt, it would be better if there was no need to allow trainers to have more than one horse in overnight events but this is not a perfect world.  The ability to allow uncoupled trainer entries is a necessary tool to ensure the largest possible fields for the horseplayer.  As the shortage of horse grows, expect to see tracks in other racing jurisdictions, even those with slots to adopt similar rules.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Convictions are Warnings

In Ontario, former standardbred trainer Derek Riesberry was convicted of one charge of fraud over $5,000 and one charge of attempted fraud over $5,000 and was fined $3,750, the first time a Canadian trainer was convicted in criminal court of doping.  While Rieseberry didn't receive any time in jail, this was a satisfactory penalty.  This time.

Being the first time a person was criminally charged for doping a horse in Canada, a fine alone is sufficient penalty. Hopefully, seeing a colleague receiving a fine and criminal record which may haunt them for life is incentive enough to discourage individuals from doping.  That said, in the event Rieseberry's misfortune is not deterrent enough, the next person who is charged should receive jail time.  Perhaps increasing the penalty and sending a message to the racing community will resonate with those willing to risk a fine and a blot on their record.

One may wonder why on both sides of the border, there aren't more criminal prosecutions.  Fact is most violations must be treated by racing commissions under the trainers responsibility rule for the standard for a criminal conviction is much higher than for an administrative charge.  The presence of a prohibited substance in a horse's blood is not sufficient for a criminal conviction; one needs to be caught in the act.

While it requires a receptive prosecutor, racing commissions would be doing the sport and horseplayers a great favor in those rare instances when someone is caught in the act doping a horse, they refer the case to the state or federal prosecutor; unless the risk associated with wrongdoing is high enough, those inclined to commit wrong will feel they can act in virtual impunity.


Wednesday, April 6, 2016

The Amateurs to the Rescue

You will hear many gamblers complain about amateur races.  Truth be told, I am one who can take one or two amateur races on a wagering card, but I hate it when you get an entire card full of amateur tilts as tends to be the case on one card a year at Monticello Raceway.

However, after this past weekend at the Meadowlands, I am beginning to think all those haters of amateur events are like those people who claim to hate Barry Manilow.  If all those people hate Barry Manilow, how do you explain all those records he sold?  With more than 80 million records sold, someone has to like him; dare I say some of those haters are among him.

Same with all those who hate amateur races.  At the Meadowlands this past weekend,  just over $627,000 was wagered on two races on the Friday night card.  That's a lot of money considering no one likes those races; no doubt some of those haters were wagering into those pools.  Could it be what the punters don't like about amateur races is the typical small pools they draw?  If you get good pools, the gambler will wager into those pools with a flourish.  Granted, sometimes handicapping those races is a little more difficult due to the lack of drives these drivers get overall, but it still takes a good horse to win a race.  With luck the dividend for having a winning wager will compensate the horseplayer for the extra variable in the equation.

Amateur races at the Meadowlands have been a godsend.  Not only are the races supported at the window, but they fill two of the races on Friday night, making it easier for Racing Secretary Peter Koch to not only complete the Friday card but provide more flexibility in carding Saturday night's program.  

So here to the amateurs competing at the Meadowlands.  Drive on (just not every race please).

NYSGC Lowers The Boom....

...But not on the alleged positives of glaucine which had earlier gotten press in some sectors of the industry for those supposed violations involved renowned trainers.

Instead, six trainers have been found allegedly in violation of NYGC rules for cobalt.  Trainers Tyler J. Nostadt, Joseph Carrubba, Dennis M. Washington, Sean M. Campbell, Megan M. Gilmour and Dawn M. DeVaux, are alleged to have violated NYSGC rules and have been suspended immediately pending hearings due to the severity of the violations.     

Nostadt, Carrubba, and Washington, supposedly having horses with cobalt at levels in excess of 300 ng/ml face suspensions of 10 years or license revocation plus fines of $25,000 per race day violation.

Campbell, Gilmour, and DeVaux, supposedly having violations for cobalt at levels in excess of 50 ng/ml face additional suspension or revocation in addition to fines of $25,000 per violation. 

Out of the combined sixteen positives, two were the result of out-of-competition testing.  The remainder of the positives came from post-race samples at Monticello, Saratoga, and Yonkers.

In addition to facing adjudication by the NYGC, the commission is referring the cases to law enforcement for possible animal cruelty charges.

No doubt, due to the seriousness of charges, appeals are likely by at least some of the trainers and we can expect these cases to go on potentially for years until settlements or all appeals are exhausted.

In the same press release, the commission did announce it is looking at 30 post-race positives for glaucine for which at present they are seeking to see if the positives are due to contamination.  Should it be determined the positives were due to deliberate administration, they promise 'significant' penalties.  As expected, no trainer names were mentioned regarding these positives.  This is the first time the NYSGC has formally issued a statement on the glaucine cases in writing.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Attention RUS Participants

For those of you who may be interested in having your horses racing in RUS events, the conditions for RUS New York's fair races have been released.  Note if you have a horse over the official retirement age, they are eligible to compete in fair races.

The schedule for events to be contested at pari-mutuel tracks have not yet been announced.

Can There Be another Wiggle It Jiggleit in Our Future (Literally)?

An Australian court has just cleared the way for the cloning of standardbreds with some restrictions.  If this decision isn't overturned by an appeals court, we may see another Lyell Creek, Blacks A Fake, or Smoken Up in the next few years.

The court does impose some reasonable restrictions in their decision.   Under the judge's order; no more than one clone may be produced by the donor per breeding season; a clone may be only produced by a live donor, meaning there would not be another Monkey King once he passes on; no donor sire or damn may be used once it passes what has been established a reasonable breeding age.  These restrictions ensure cloning emulates as close as possible the current methodology of breeding.

Of course cloning would be of great benefit to those unable to breed the old fashioned way, meaning mostly geldings.  However, even if cloned, would the off-spring be as successful as daddy (kind of hard to use the word 'sire')?  After all, there was a reason why they were gelded in the first place.  Who is to say a Rambling Willie would have been as successful as he was were he intact?  It is quite possible Willie may have been a nondescript racehorse racing in lower claiming ranks if he wasn't gelded.  Hence, even with cloning, while you have a better chance of getting a 'good one', there are no guarantees you will as training methods, injuries, feed, and other variables come into play.

So the million dollar question is when will we see clones racing in the United States or North America?  Would one of these clones be allowed to race on this continent?

Under the current rules of the USTA, clones are not allowed to be registerd.   Back in 2005, the appeals court in the fifth federal circuit, overturned a lower courts ruling which required the AQHA to register cloned quarter horses on the grounds the AQHA rule prohibiting the registering of clones was a violation of anti-trust laws.  The appeals court overturned the decision claiming the AQHA was not a competitor, thus anti-trust laws weren't violated. So. barring a new case which requires the USTA or another breed registry to register a clone, the USTA's ban would hold.

Under the current rules, it is more likely an imported clone would be allowed to race as long as it is registered by Harness Racing Australia (HRA).  Under USTA rules, a horse registerd by HRA is accepted for racing and breeding in the United States.  Should the USTA no longer accept the Australian studbook in an effort to keep clones from racing in the United States or otherwise attempt to ban imported clones from racing, the chance of retaliation by HRA exists which could close the Australian market to American sires.

Of course, while American courts have upheld the ban on registering clones for racing, there is nothing to keep the USTA from accepting clones.  Should cloned standardbreds be successful in Australia, the desire to clone American horses may grow; after all, success encourages imitation.  In addition, we need to remember, the natural way of breeding has been redefined over the years; natural cover has been replaced by artificial insemination, semen transport has replaced the need for the broodmare being on the breeding farm's grounds, and embryo transfer has been accepted.  You can argue the 'good old way' is long gone; cloning would merely be the next step in the advancement of breeding.

My prediction is should cloning be successful in Australia we will see cloning of standardbreds become acceptable within the next ten years.  So yes, we may see another Wiggle It Jiggleit, but we may have to wait awhile before it happens.

Sunday, April 3, 2016

A Champion in Defeat

Wiggle It Jiggleit went off last night in the 3rd division of the George Morton Levy Memorial series at 2-5 in his second start of the year.  As I mentioned last week, if less than 2-1, you should look for a value play primarily because he was saddled with a poor post in his second pari-mutuel start of the year; anything less than 2-1 would not be a value play.

Well, sure enough WIJI went off at 2-5 and as suspected, the seven post was his undoing as he was seventh or last more of the mile until he turned on his afterburners, moving from seventh to second in the final quarter, losing the race by a length.

Could he have won it last night?  It is possible if his season climaxed last night, but it is the start of a long season so he had to settle for an impressive second place.  As others have said and I concur, you see a horse's greatness in defeat more than when he wins and make no mistake, it was an impressive mile considering the time of year it was (you may see it below).  All I know, assuming the champion pacer gets an inside post position next week, you will be lucky to get 2-5 on the pacer.  The key is to know when 2-5 is a gift or a horse to be ignored.