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Monday, May 30, 2016

Wiggle It Jiggleit, and what more can you say?

by Pete Lawrence, VFTRG Contributor

Back in the days when I covered lots of big races live, there were two horses I saw win so many times, I just ran out of things to say about them.

One was Jake And Elwood, whose era was the early 1990s, and the other was Mystic Park, whose giant year was 1982.

Wiggle It Jiggleit, who yesterday won the $200,000 Dorothy Mullin Invitational at Harrah's Philly - in an all-age track-record 1:47-3/5, his sixth victory in nine starts this year - is another horse like that right now.

He's got 28 wins the past two years - I've seen about 20 of them, either live or by video feed - and while I've never been commissioned to write about him, that's probably a good thing, since this reigning Horse of the Year has about exhausted the dictionary (In articles written by other people, not me).

He sat an unhurried pocket today, in rein to Montrell Teague, pulled past the half to hook pace-setting Rockin' Ron (Matt Kakaley), then put that rival away down the lane.

Rockeyed Optimist (Brett Miller) was third.

The winner's circle presentation was uneventful, a blessing for groom "Big Mike" Taylor, owner George Teague and trainer of record Clyde Francis.

WIJI's winner's circle appearances often don't go smoothly, but this one wasn't bad. Wiggle It Jiggleit only hopped up and down a few times.

Tame, by his standards.

There has been much speculation about the quality, at least at the top, of this year's free-for-all pacing crop.

Wiggle It Jiggleit probably holds the top spot there right now, but it's going to be fun to see him hook up with Always B. Miki, who may actually be faster, strictly speaking, on a mile track.

Add to that mix Freaky Feet Pete, who has beaten Wiggle It Jiggleit in Indiana, Sunday's place horse, Rockin' Ron, who beat WIJI two weeks ago at Flamboro Downs and who gave him a tussle yesterday - and several others - and this could be quite a FFA year.

P.S. - For the sake of transparency, I was not at Harrah's Chester/Philly Sunday. I stayed home to watch the Elitlopp on my desktop, watched the Chester races from here, too.

PPS - We must also mention the wonderful performance by Obrigado (Mark MacDonald, 1:52) in the $200K Maxie Lee Memorial Invitational Trot. Co-owned by trainer Paul Kelley, SRF Stable, Higgins & Stable 45, Obrigado beat Il Sogno Dream (Scott Zeron) and Maestro Blue Chip (Tim Tetrick). Sadly, Shake It Cerry and J.L.Cruze jumped during the race, and Bee A Magician was scratched. But the first-place check still spends the same.

PPPS - The tertiary feature at Chester was the $200K Betsy Ross Mares Invite, won by Venus Delight (Tim Tetrick, 1:50-4/5) over Katie Said (Brett Miller) and Sell A Bit N. (Jordan Stratton).

Nuncio Wins Elitlopp in 1:09.2 KM Rate

by Pete Lawrence, VFTRG Contributor

... which is a 1:51-2/5 mile.

(Ironically, the Elitlopp IS raced at a mile, then converted to a kilometer rate, then converted back to a mile rate.)

The historic Elitloppet ("Elite Race") is raced, in case it needs to be said, at Solvalla in Stockholm, Sweden.

Anyway, driver Orjan Kihlstrom raced Nuncio first-over from post four as Un Mec d'Heripre and teamster Joseph Verbeeck set the fractions, whatever they were, from the rail, before fading to third at the wire.

Resolve, Ake Svanstedt up, came from off the pace (well, trot) to be a very narrow second.

I judged the winning margin to be a neck.

The elimination winners, earlier Sunday, were Timoko (Bjorn Goop, 1:09.1), over Resolve (Svanstedt), Propulsion (Kihlstrom) and Oasis Bi (Johnny Takter) ... and Un Mec d'Heripre (Verbeeck, 1:09.3), over Nuncio (Kihlstrom), Royal Fighter (Jennifer Tillman) and Billie de Montfort (David Thomain).

Several other good trotters, including On Track Piraten, B.B.S. Sugarlight and Mosaique Face, did not qualify for the final.

Also, last year's Elitloppet champ, Magic Tonight.

Nuncio, a 5YO U.S.-bred son of Andover Hall-Nicole Isabelle by Lindy Lane, is owned, as he has been throughout his racing career, by Stefan Melander's Stall T.Z.

Melander, a top trainer AND a top photographer (as "Foto Tarzan") waited patiently to take over Nuncio's training as Jim Oscarsson conditioned and drove the ultra-consistent horse at age two, before returning to Sweden himself, and Jimmy Takter trained Nuncio at three, with John Campbell doing the driving.

Nuncio did quite well in the U.S., despite having the misfortune of not only being the same age, but also being the Takter stablemate, of Hambletonian-winner Trixton AND the great Father Patrick.

Nuncio himself won both the Yonkers Trot and Kentucky Futurity at three.

Now 31-for-46 lifetime (and never out of the top three), my rough figuring is that Nuncio has earned about $2,570,000, including his take from yesterday's Elitlopp, which I'm guessing was worth about $800,000 in total, including the elims.

The undercard at Solvalla on Sunday, included several other tasty races, too.

Wild Honey, a great trotting filly here in the U.S. for Team Takter (Hambletonian Oaks and Kentucky Futurity Filly champ, etc.) won the Rune Stolt Lopp for trainer Daniel Reden, owner Stall Zet and driver Orjan Kihlstrom (that name again).

And last year's Hambletonian champion, Pinkman, regular driver Yannick Gingras in the bike, won a 4YO race named for the late horseman Tommy Hanne in 1:09.9 KM rate, though it was another one-mile contest (these conversions give me a headache).

Trained by Jimmy Takter for wife Christina Takter, et al, Pinkman beat his former barn-mate Uncle Lasse, who is now owned by Melander's Stall T.Z. and driven by Mr. Kihlstrom. And yet another Takter graduate, French Laundry, was in there, too.

Also of note from the excellent live TV feed were interviews with the enigmatic driving ace Joseph Verbeeck and trainer Fabrice Souloy, which, for some reason I'm not complaining about, were conducted in English.

It wasn't so much what the interviewees said, it was that they were comfortable enough to speak on-camera in our tongue.

So, it was quite a day for Stefan Melander (who won the 2001 Hambletonian on our shores at the Meadowlands with Scarlet Knight, it should be remembered), Orjan Kihlstrom (who has had great success in the U.S., too, with very few opportunities; think Commander Crowe and D'One), the Solvalla track, Team Takter ... and a great day for trotting and the overall sport of harness racing.

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Trouble in Referendum Land

The move to have casino gaming in North Jersey via this year's referendum should be getting people in favor of it nervous.  The referendum would, if approved, allow two casinos to open in Northern New Jersey with likely sites being Jersey City and the Meadowlands.  The referendum calls for a portion of tax revenue go to Atlantic City the first few years and provides for at least 2% of casino revenue going to NJ horse racing.

In this case, the Meadowlands isn't just the racetrack, we are talking about the entire Meadowlands Complex, meaning it may not be at the Meadowlands Racetrack where many presumed it would end up.  It seems Triple Five, the current owners of American Dream, the shopping/entertainment complex (which one day may actually become a reality) may wish to put a bid in to become the operator of a potential casino.  The opening of a casino not at the Meadowlands could force the track to slash the stakes program to the bare bones if not worse.

But before worrying who will get the potential Meadowlands bid, people need to worry whether or not the referendum passes.  If the election was held now, the referendum would go down to defeat.   Even with the referendum being roughly five months away, chances for passage are worse than originally thought.  Consider the following:

Governor Christie has threatened not to campaign for the referendum because the bill he proposed to rescue Atlantic City from bankruptcy was not approved in the state legislature.  Laws offering a bail out to Atlantic City finally passed which the Governor signed but it remains to be seen if the Governor comes back on in support of the ballot questions as he threatened to sit on the sidelines; of course, being how popular the Governor is, having him opposed to the proposal may be a plus.

The demise of casino gambling in Atlantic City if casinos open in Northern New Jersey are getting plenty of newsprint in the press with the CEO of Resorts claiming three to five of the remaining eight casinos in Atlantic City would close if gaming comes of Northern NJ. They claim a loss of 23,000 jobs is at risk according to a study Resorts commissioned which will be released within the next week.  Other stories of doom and gloom are swirling seeking to persuade voters, especially those in South Jersey to vote against the referendum.  The benefits of expanded gaming in NJ?  Nothing really being discussed.  Being how popular horse racing is, I am not sure the benefit to racing is really going to resonate with voters.

The campaign in favor of expanding gaming has yet to get into gear.  True, until the AC issue was resolved, it was hard to get a campaign under way and while most of the campaigning will likely take place after Labor Day, but with South Jersey likely going against the referendum (it's only a question of by how much), it will be necessary to win big time elsewhere, especially in North Jersey.  With opponents of gaming presently leading in Northern NJ, and some suggest opposition to expanding gaming is growing,  the time to kick the campaign into gear is now.

The Presidential Election.  It was known it would be harder to get through the noise of a presidential campaign to get the attention of voters and this was before Donald Trump became the presumptive GOP nominee.  With a likely Clinton vs. Trump campaign, it will be even harder to get the attention of the voter unless one of the candidates self destruct as this race will occupy the consciousness of America as if it was the most outrageous season of "The Real Housewives of [fill in the blank]".  Make no mistake, this election will be like a spectacular multi-vehicle accident on the NJ Turnpike; it won't be pretty but most people will be occupied with it which means coverage of the referendum will be diminished in the newspapers and nightly news.

This is not to say a campaign for expanded gaming is doomed to failure but it is going to take a lot more work than anyone thought.  Can the pro-gaming camp raise and spend the amount of money needed to win enough voter support to get the referendum passed?  Only time will tell.

Nuncio Wins the Elitlopp

Nuncio put in a brilliant effort in winning the final of the 2016 Elitlopp at Solvalla, Sweden today.  The five year old son of Andover Hall went an overland route to win this year's edition of the prestigious race in 1:51.2  Resolve finished a fast closing second after taking cover from the start and tipping three wide as they approached the final turn.

Here is the final heat.

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Philly Trio of Stakes

We close out the holiday weekend stake racing with a trio of races at Harrah's Philadelphia with the contesting of the Betsy Ross, Maxie Lee Memorial, and Dorothy Mullin for top trotters and pacers.  All three races seem to be competitive.

Let's take a look at the individual stakes.

Sunday, May 29

10th Pace - $200,000; Betsy Ross Mare Invitational
1   Yagonnakissmeornot (Dube, 7-1) - Toss last. Matchmaker champion draws well.  Expect her to leave.  Threat.
2   Sassa Hanover (Kakaley, 10-1) -  Been racing well, but may be in a little deep.  Share at best.
3   Venus Delight (Tetrick, 7-2) -  Expect change in tactics.  May land share with a good trip.
4   Devil Child (Sears, 5-2) -  Has hit her stride.  May take it all.
5   Katie Said (B Miller, 6-1) -  3 for 3 this year.  Looks to extend it to 4 for 4.
6   Waasmula (Henry, 20-1) -  Canadian shipper tries American company.  If 20-1, worth a stab.
7   Sell A Bit N (Stratton, 15-1) - Winner of last draws poorly.
8   Color's A Virgin (D Miller, 4-1) -  Has been racing better.  May get a price from post 8.
Selections: 8-5-4-1

11th Trot - $200,000; Maxie Lee Memorial Invitational
1  Obrigado (Macdonald, 5-1) - Been racing well.  May be in too deep.
2  Wind Of The North (Napolitano, 12-1) - Seems to be over-matched.
3  Gural Hanover (Kakaley, 20-1) - Broke twice in last.  Tossing.
4  JL Cruze (Callahan, 7-2) - Winner of 4 of last 5.  Loss came against comparable field.  Will need to show me here.
5  Il Sogno Dream (Zeron, 7-1) - Three sharp qualifiers.  Will need to be at best to score victory.
6  Shake It Cerry (D Miller, 5-1) - Back on lasix. Deserves another look.
7  Bee A Magician (Sears, 5-2) - Queen B looking for fourth straight win.  Threat here.
8  Maestro Blue Chip (Tetrick, 8-1) - Shocked in 4yo stakes.  This is a much tougher field.  Will pass despite 10 for 10 seasonal record.
Selections: 6-7-5-8

12th Pace - $200,000; Dorothy Mullin Inviatational
1  JK Endofanera (D Miller, 20-1) - Tough spot for him.  Pass.
2  Wiggle It Jiggleit (Teague, 2-1) - The one to beat.  Do you take low odds is the question? 
3  Rockin Ron (Kakaley, 6-1) - Tasted defeat first time last race.  May be worth a look if unwilling to take the odds on #2.
4  Rockeyed Optimist (B Miller, 12-1) - Lands share with a trip.
5  Mach It So (Tetrick, 9-2) - Steps back up.  Don't see here.
6  Mel Mara (Callahan, 10-1) - Seems to be in deep.  Pass.
7  Luck Be Withoyou (Napolitano, 9-2) - Hard to gauge.  Your guess.
8  Bit Of A Legend N (Stratton, 6-1) - Should find this group tough to handle.
Selections: 2-3-4-7

Friday, May 27, 2016

Lismore, Art Rooney Preview

Next up on the weekend stakes schedule are Saturday's Lismore and Art Rooney stakes at Yonkers Raceway which closes out the winter/spring meet.

While the Lismore has only six entrants, it is a highly competitive race where four of the horses can make a legitimate argument for winning the race.  As for the Rooney, it is a true puzzle and may offer some value for astute handicappers.

Let's take a look at the two stakes.

Sat. May 28 YR; 4th Pace - $100,000; Lismore 3yo Fillies
1  Cut And Paste (9-2, Sears) - Has shown some ability last year.  Still not sure she's ready.
2  Kryptos (3-1, Stratton) - 7 for 8 this year.  Tested for class here.  Might be up to challenge.  Consider.
3  Apple Bottom Jeans (5-1, Teague) - Been racing well in Delaware.  Possibility to land share.
4  Dime A Dance (5-2, Brennan) - NYSS champion at 2 has shown ability against open company.  Logical choice, but not a slam dunk.  Consider.
5  Rock Me Baby (9-1, Campbell) - Interesting long shot here.  Won Intl Stallion Stakes last year at Lexington.  Coming off pair of qualifiers.  Don't ignore.
6  Soft Idea (7-2, Bartlett) - Won NYSS at Monticello in last start.  May be the one.
Selections: 6-5-4

Sat. May 28 YR; 6th Pace - $300,000 Art Rooney 3yo Open (Horses Listed in PP Order)
  1  Art Magic (4-5, Brennan) - Weaker half of entry.  Finished 3rd in elim.  Would be quite a feat to win here.
  2  Rodeo Rock (5-1, Dube) - Finished 2nd in first start of season.  Can improve off of that.  Consider.
  3  No Shame Blue Chip (20-1, Buter) - Let's just call this a lottery entry.  Will need a lot to go his way to be a factor here.  Don't see it.
  4  Yankee Artillery (7-1, Stratton) - Expect him to try to make the most of a decent post draw.  May land share.
  5  Tailgunner Hanover (20-1, Schnittker) - Another lottery ticket entry.  Pass.
  6  Tap Into Power (7-2, Bartlett) - Either morning line is wrong or I am.  I'll pass here.
  7  Manny (12-1, Holland) - Last start from second tier.  Better than he looks.  Upset play?
1A  Missile J (4-5, Sears) - Winner of 4 out of last 5 including elimination.  Post may hurt here.  
Selections: 2-7-1A

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Molson Pace Preview

Lots of stakes action all weekend and we hope to report on most of them.  First up is the Molson Pace.

The Molson Pace is a wide-open affair with several contenders. While maybe not a Grade 1 event due to the stakes being contested at Harrah's on Sunday, this race would be a strong Grad 2 event.  Let's take a look at the field:

Fri 5/27 - 12th Pace WFD - $150,000 Molson Pace Invitational
1  State Treasurer (5-2, Christoforou) - Looking for a 4-peat.  May be ready to roll but at 5-2 or less; I will look for value elsewhere.
2  Bettor Rock On N (7-1, Jamieson) - Toss last.  Looks like a definite contender.  Consider at this price point or higher.
3  Sunfire Blue Chip (4-1, M Macdonald) - No chance in last.  Start prior in lower class one as fave.  This may be too deep for him.
4  Evenin of Pleasure (12-1, Filion) - Coming in winless and will be leaving winless.  Enough said.
5  Machtu N (6-1, Henry) - NZ import has raced well since arriving and has been improving each start, winning last start).  Upside potential unknown, think this one can step up.  My pick here at a price.
6  Mcwicked (7-1, Waples) - Figures to improve off of first start but may need another to be competitive.
7  PH Supercam (8-1, J Macdonald) - Needs a trip to be competitive. May land share.
8  All Bets Off (9-5, Kakaley) - Draws second tier.  Will be closing late but may be too far back to win.  Exotic possibility.
9  Rockin In Heaven (AE, Henry) - Also eligible raced fair effort in Confederation Cup.  Not likely if he does draw in.
Selections: 5-8-2-1-6

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Wednesday Briefs

At the start of the current thoroughbred meet, Canterbury Park announced a takeout cut for their wagers, WPS wagers would have a 15% rake while multi-horse exotics would have a 18% takeout.  A track with a sizable on-track presence saw on track handle increase 25% on opening weekend while wagers from all other sources increased 34%.  Granted this was the first weekend of their meet, but one has to be impressed with the results.

Let me remind you Tioga Downs has the same 15% takeout on WPS wagers and has a 17% rake on Exacta and Daily Doubles; it has been this way since the 2010 season.  Back then they had hope the New York Legislature would allow takeouts to be cut all the way to 9 or 10%, figuring the response to their industry-leading rate reductions would have a huge impact.

Well, Tioga Downs no longer looks for legislative change as the response to the takeout cuts was underwhelming.  Sure, handle increased but it hardly moved the needle and didn't make up the commissions lost at the higher rate.  Perhaps it is the fact handle at Tioga is relatively anemic, certainly when compared to the tracks in larger metropolitan areas.  Maybe it is the fact harness racing has such a small audience; there weren't many new fans to draw attention from.  To their credit, Tioga didn't revert to the original takeout rates (primarily because it is a slot track) but don't expect any further cuts from the Nichols, New York track.  But if you are wondering why no harness track cuts their takeout rate, remember it has already happened.  If you wonder why no other harness tracks cut their rates on traditional wagers, you can look back at the underwhelming response to Tioga Downs' cuts.  Harness tracks are copycats.  What works at one track is quickly copied by others and what fails at one track warns others not to try.

Those who say animal rights groups don't matter should take a look at the anti-greyhound groups who have another notch in their belt as Arizona is the latest state to ban live greyhound racing, banning racing at the end of this year and greyhound opponents have Kansas in their sights.  At the rate the anti-greyhound groups are going, there may be no greyhound racing in the United States by the end of this decade.  Of course it helps there are so few people attending greyhound racing that the tracks are ready to toss the towel in with the proper inducement; in the case of Arizona's last dog track, a guarantee to host simulcast racing at least for the next two years.  So when tracks or racing commissions institute animal friendly rules, those who support horse racing shouldn't complain as times are changing.  Yes, it will be harder to get rid of horse racing but if decoupling occurs in Florida or another state, you will see racetracks shouting 'we want to be next'.

With most of the heavy hitters competing at Harrah's Philadelphia this Sunday, little attention in the United States is being paid to the Molson Cup at Western Fair this Friday.  People should be looking at the race if only to see if State Treasurer is able to win his fourth straight Molson.  No, he hasn't been as sharp thus far this year but he isn't meeting the strongest Molson field.  Weaker field or not, to win the same race four years straight is quite an accomplishment.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Battle Time!

The Battle of Lake Erie this year is one of the most anticipated races of the year as we have the first match-up of two horses who look to battle for Pacer of the Year if not Horse of the Year, Freaky Feet Pete and Wiggle It Jiggleit.  But it is not just a two-horse race.  Also showing fine mettle at this time of the year is All Bets Off, though saddled tonight with post position eight.

Though typically a fall horse, The Battle likely will be the final appearance of the Iron Horse, Foiled Again, who at age twelve seems to be showing he is no longer able to go with FFA level horses.  While he may be able to pick up some checks and win against higher conditioned horses, tonight ma very well be the final appearance in major stakes for him.  I will be surprised to see him return net year as a thirteen horse.  Sooner or later, Father Time wins out.

Anyway, after drawing poorly in his most recent starts (and often this year), Wiggle It Jiggleit draws the coveted one post over the Flying Turns' half mle oval; expect WIJI to try to wire the field.  Freaky Feet Pete, with post position five will likely track WIJI, keep the fractions honest and try to take control of the race sometime after the half.  To make things interesting, All Bets Off will likely take back, hope for some blistering fractions and attempt a late brush to win the race despite drawing the worst of it.  As I said, perhaps the most anticipated race you can have for early in the season.

Of course, there are five other horses in the race who would like to have a say in the race.  Do any of them have a chance for an upset or get into the exotics?  Let's take a look at the field.

11th Northfield Park - Pace; $200,000; Battle of Lake Erie 
1   Wiggle It Jiggleit (Even, Teague) - Unless a strategic change in the game plan, this one will be going down the road in an attempt to wire the field.  It will be a question of fractions.  May be able to win it but at even money or less, I will look for some value.
2    Ideal Cowboy (8-1, Merriman) - One that has been drawing poorly, the one time he started inside of post six he won over the Yonkers oval.  This field is tougher, but with this post, may be an upset play.  Definite superfecta play.
3    Roland N Rock (25-1, Stahl) - Had some early season success then tailed off.  Given a month off and first start back was fair.  Unless he steps his game up big time, I don't expect he will be around at the end.  Pass.
4    Foiled Again (10-1, Bongiorno) - As discussed, he isn't the horse he once was and the fact Gingras is not driving should confirm the fact.  Barring reaching back into the fountain of youth, he will be satisfied with picking up a check.
5     Freaky Feet Pete (2-1, Tr. Tetrick) - This one is showing Hoosier bred horses are not to be ignored.  Expect him to track #1 and attempt to seize control past the half.  It's all about the fractions.  If you can get 2-1, may be worth a play.  If not, try the exotics or sit back and watch.
6     Santa Fe Beachboy (25-1, Wrenn) - Would be a shocker to win, but not to be on your exotic ticket.  Use accordingly.
7    Luck Be Withyou (15-1, Palone) - Oakes trainee upended JK Endofanera in second start of the season.  Can he improve from that from post seven?  Consider in exotics to goose price up.
8    All Bets Off (12-1, Kakaley) - Will look for speed duel to make late move.  Does he get it?  I suspect not.
Selections: 5-1-2-7

The Graduate series kicks off tonight at the Meadowlands as two short fields of trotters and a field of 4 year old pacers do battle.  Just briefly, here are my picks for these three tilts.  Second race - Homicide Hunter; Sixth Race - Crescent Fashion; Eighth Race - Split The House.  

Friday, May 20, 2016

Which Trainers Are Trending Up?

This is a look at how the trainers in the top 25 are faring after the first four and a half months of 2016, in comparison with the same period last year. I contrasted the results from the morning of May 14, 2016 with the same date in 2015. Some thrive in the pre-Grand Circuit period, while others do better early in the year, and these results reflect that fact.

Ron Burke, the top trainer this year and last, took $488,850 out of the inaugural Pennsylvania Classic when his charges finished 1-2-3, led by his Classics hope Check Six. Still, Burke has sent out 142 fewer starters this year, and those horses have won 16 fewer races and banked $282,000 less than his bunch had by May 14 of last year. He recently crossed the $4 million threshold while none of his competitors are close to $2 million, so it’s all relative.

Luminosity, Take It Back Terry, All Bets Off, Atta Boy Dan, and Confederation Cup winner, My Hero Ron, are a few of the 46-year-old trainer’s money makers.

Twenty-nine-year-old Rene Allard is second again, but unlike Burke he has 37 more wins in 260 more starts and has bumped his earnings up by $207,000. His UTRS dropped from 0.379 to 0.342. Half his starts have been at Yonkers Raceway, a percentage that will shift now that the Pennsylvania tracks are in full swing. Red Hot Herbie, Lettucerockthem A, Carolsideal, Yagonnakissmeornot, Domethatagain and Rock N Roll Xample are a few of his better ones.

Richard Banca is our first surprise, as the leading trainer at Yonkers goes from number 17 a year ago to number three. His 434 starts represent a 46% increase from May of 2015; his 94 wins are up 42%; and his stable has earned twice as much money--$1.1 million. Forty-one-year-old Banca, who was shown the not welcome sign at The Meadowlands in January, 2012 has made more than 90% of his starts at the Westchester track. Mach It A Par, Monroe County, Santa Fe Beachboy and Sam’s Escape are some of his money makers. He finished 2015 in 20th.

Fourth place Jeff Bamond,31, was third at this point last year. His starts and wins are about the same but his earnings are down more than $308,000 and his UTRS dropped from 0.314 to 0.283. He has made 85% of his starts at Yonkers. Krispy Apple is still going strong, but last year’s Matchmaker winner, Venus Delight, and four-time division winner, Anndrovette, have both failed to fire. Mach It So, Ideal Cowboy, Validus Deo and PH Supercam have made money for Bamond Racing. He wound up 5th last year.

Richard Moreau, 51, the dominant force in Ontario and winner of the Trainer of the Year O’Brien the last three years, is at number five, two spots better than a year ago. His starts and wins are down a couple of dozen each but his earnings are up by more than $32,000. Moreau finished 2015 at number 13. Witch Dali, Rafa, Ms Mac N Cheese, Gerries Sport,  Boomboom Ballykeel, Mohawk Warrior and Grin For Money are in his stable.

Australian native Peter Tritton is another surprise, as his stable of top shelf imports carried him from 48th in 2015 to number six this year. A low volume trainer, his starts and wins haven’t jumped much but his earnings are up more than $612,000. Bit Of A Legend N, the richest Standardbred in North America by $150,000, swept the Levy, while Sell A Bit N excelled throughout the first part of the year, including in the Matchmaker. For The Ladies N and Texican N are a couple of others. Tritton has made all but a handful of his starts at Yonkers Raceway.

Ontario based Carmen Auciello, 35, drops a couple of spots, from six to eight. Despite having 102 fewer starts, his win total only fell by two, although his earnings decreased by $216,000. Auciello, who crossed the $10 million threshold in career earnings in late January at Woodbine, made a quarter of his starts at Yonkers Raceway. His War N Munn recently won the Diplomat, while Heavenly Hill took the Blossom Series final.

Yonkers trainer Thomas Milici has risen from the depths of obscurity to the upper echelon of the training fraternity. He occupies the nine slot. His 73 wins represent a 63% increase over all of last year, when he didn’t crack the top 50. And his earnings are up $423,000 over all of 2015. A number of very productive horses have fortuitously fallen into his lap. Major Athens, the richest trotter in North America, and Kid PK are a couple of his charges.

Delaware trainer Dylan Davis, who turns 39 in a few days, jumped 12 spots to number ten. His 66 more starts have translated into 10 more wins and $148,000 more in earnings. Go Collect N and Cashendash Hanover are a couple of his winners.

Jimmy Takter, who ended the season in second, moved from 15 to 12, but what he accomplishes during the early part of the season means little. Not Afraid, Great Vintage and Sunfire Blue Chip are three horses that earned money for him during this period. Takter earned more money in Canada than any other trainer during 2015.

Meadows regular Norm Parker rose 31 spots to number 14. He had 124 additional starters that earned $200,000 more than his horses did during the same period last year. That represents a 40% increase. Coffee Addict, Chef Lee and Breedlove are three of his better ones.

Ohio trainer Virgil Morgan Jr, 50, who has more than 5,000 wins to his credit, fell from number 5 to 15. His earnings were cut in half as he took in $478,000 less than last year. Starts were down by 150 and wins off by 65. He’s the king of Scioto Downs; things should heat up now that they’re open.

Thirty-one-year-old Andrew Harris, who made more than 63% of his starts at Yonkers, moved up from 44 to 21. He had ten additional wins on 15 fewer starts and banked $319,000 more than he did during the same stretch in 2015. He is 12th on the Yonkers trainer’s list. His Bettor Rock On N has committed to the upcoming Molson Pace. Phil Your Boots, Skates N Plates and Lucan Hanover are other money makers. The latter just returned to the Casie Coleman Barn.

Tracy Brainard, 39, who was banned from Yonkers, except for sire stakes races, one week into May of last year, was ninth on the trainers list a year ago. She wound up at number 49 at year’s end and has only had a dozen starts under her own name in 2016.

Jennifer Sabot, who was/is Lou Pena’s girlfriend, was at number 13 on May 14, 2015. She’s credited with only 19 starts and one win in 2016. Contrast that with the 86 board finishes and $573,000 she was credited with at this point in 2015.

With things beginning to open up on the Grand Circuit front and in the sire stakes realm as well, the complexion of this list will change markedly over the course of the next couple of months.

Joe FitzGerald




by Sturla Petterson, Special to VFTRG

[Editor:  The following comes from a Facebook group on harness racing and is reprinted with permission of the author.]

The Finnhorse (Photo Credit: Wikipedia Commons)
Since the group is called "harness racing" I figured a few words about European trotters would be allowed. Not French of Scandinavian standardbred trotters, but rather Scandinavian coldblood trotters. Anybody who has visited a racetrack in Norway, Sweden or Finland has probably seen a Coldblood trotter. Although considered a Coldblood trotter, the Finnhorse is different (has a different studbook) than the Norwegian/Swedish coldblood trotter. There is a lot of pride among the breeders of these horses and suggesting that "it is pretty much the same thing" or that the studbooks should be mixed is a sure way to start a fight or at least get lifelong hatred and ugly looks.

A Scandinavian Coldblood Mare and Foal
 (Photo Credit: Wikipedia Commons)
They are on average slightly smaller, heavier, and more compact than the standardbred (and naturally not as fast). Pretty much all colours are found and roan and buckskin are not uncommon. It is not early developed compared to the standardbred, 3 year olds are generally not really to go up against better aged trotters for example, and it is not uncommon for aged horses not to shine until they are 6 or even 7, although there are some exceptions to this of course. Some race up to 15, the mandatory retirement age.

The Norwegian/Swedish Coldblood trotter is a result of breeding lighter horses into the native heavier draft horses. Historically the most important horse is the British thoroughbred Odin b 1830 whose great-grandchild Veikle Balder is considered "the Hambletonian of the Coldblood trotter." In Norway in the 1870s they started to distinguish between the heavier farm/work horse and the lightertransport/trotter horse (used to transport people) and breeding started to specialize a bit. But the specialization did not last and the most popular horse after 1900, Dale Gudbrand, was quarter Ardenner - with all the typical Ardenner features (big, broad, muscular, short and sturdy legs) and the race again move to a heavier type. But today these heavier influences are to a large extend bred out of importance.
The Norwegian studbook was closed in 1937. Throughout history there have been some Coldblood trotters that have been suspected to have a standardbred sire, one example is Schuvarda (pictured).

On July 9, 1955 the breed broke the 1.30KM barrier (2.24.4MR) when Molyn trotted 2.22.4 at Jarlsberg. Old newspaper clippings from back then talk about how the Coldblood trotters were now going as fast as they could and that any further records should not be expected...

In the 80s things started to really move. Anybody who visited the Elitlopp in the 80s probably remember Alm Svarten, an outstanding horse who usually ran circles around his opponents. In 1987 Alm Svarten had lowered the record to 1.21.5KM / 2.11.1MR.

Atom Vinter (Photo Credit: Unknown)
At the same time a buckskin colt called Atom Vinter ("Nuclear Winter") hit the tracks. His breeder-owner-trainer was an amateur who claimed he just used common sense and hard work to prepare his horse. Atom Vinter was usually given brutal trips, either parked outside the leader or trotting most of the race third over. With an owner who had no fear but also knew how to appeal to the crowd he was extremely popular from 88 to the mid-90s.

Around the same time a good, though not spectacular colt named Elding also hit the tracks. Although a good trotter and one of the better aged ones, when retired to stud the breed completely transformed. Take the influence of Star's Pride, Speedy Crown, Meadow Skipper and Valley Victory, double it, then you have the influence of Elding in today's Coldblood trotter. the only problem with that in such a small breed it has created some inbreeding problems.

Historically Norwegian coldblood trotters have outperformed the Swedish ones but that would all change with the birth of Järvsöfaks in 1994. Unquestionably the best Coldblood trotter in history, he finished 201-16-4 in 234 starts and a world record of 1.17.9KM / 2.05.2MR and also has the record for coldblood trotters in consecutive wins with 42.

In 1990 Elding's first crop hit the tracks and it included Lannem Sjura, a highly talented filly who because of injuries only raced 11 times but finished 9-2-0 in those 11 starts. She became a very good broodmare and her last foal rewrote all record books. Lannem Silje, her last foal (by Åsajerven, a son of Järvsöfaks), unfortunately had to retire earlier this year at the tender age of 6 so she "only" managed 48 starts. In those 48 starts, however, she was 44-3-1, winning absolutely everything. When setting her personal best of 1.18.8KM / 2:06.4MR as a 5 year old she lowered the record for aged fillies by more than 6 seconds (you can hear the commentators laughing in amazement: it is completely unheard of for a 5 year old - and a filly at that - to be this good, they just shouldn't be able to beat older trotters this early). She would usually beat the colts in her crop by 20-30 lengths when she wanted to (this from her 3 year old season - after a fast but somewhat manageable opening lap she just blew everything to pieces, finishing just a second behind her own record and this on a wet and soggy track on a cold November night).

Bred, owned and trained by an older gentleman who has taken Silje around to many of the smaller tracks, the horse and her owner is an extremely popular duo and whenever Silje has come to a local track a few thousand extra spectators have come too - she's done a lot for the sport. She's so superior and spectacular yet also so folksy that one cannot help but love her. And although she hadn't a chance to do it, Järvsöfaks 1.17.9 record would have been history had she not been injured - only a few die hard Swedish fans believe otherwise.

The charm of Lannem Silje is also found in a few of her victories. When she won the Kriterium in 2013 she suffered from teeth and throat problems. When she pretty stopped running with a half a lap to go it was just shock. When somebody came up on her side she responded in spectacular fashion (it cannot be explained, just watch it: just watch the final lap from 1:30 or so - needless to say, this was the one time where having a very experienced driver helped her). And when she broke wildly at the start in Kongepokalløpet in 2014 it finally seemed like she couldn't win ... or so most of us thought. I recall sitting in the restaurant loudly proclaiming "wow, I think she might actually lose this one" 10 seconds into the race. How could I know she would still win by 10 or so lengths while not even breaking a sweat? 

On her Facebook page, Lannem Silje has more than 4500 followers!

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Outriders Rock and Where Have the Racehorses Gone?

The outrider's job at any racetrack is invisible to patrons, unless there is a problem.  However, if there is a problem, the true purpose of an outrider becomes evident.  A perfect example of this occurred today at Tabcorp Park Menangle in Australia.  Take a look at the fancy work the outriders performed in the third race.

If there is any track without an outrider, shame on them.

Now that stakes season has now kicked into a higher gear, how is the entry box being supported at the Meadowlands?  With twelve races on tap for both Friday and Saturday, we can see:

Number of
Horses                    Friday                Saturday
10 (or more)              3                         0                      
  9                               4                         4
  8                               4                         2
  7                               1                         5
  6                               0                         1

The Meadowlands is in a tough position.   With short fields, a logical step would be to cut back to ten races a night but the Meadowlands has a policy of 'if you enter them, they get raced'.  To cut back to ten races may result in some horses not getting in; something which may result in owners and trainers who are loyal to the Meadowlands to take their chances and enter elsewhere.

With Freehold Raceway closing this Saturday, hopefully this is as bad as it gets for this meet as those racing in Central Jersey will need to find a new place to race.  In the last couple of years, the Caramore and Cathedra Dot Com series have been offered to encourage some of these horses to race in East Rutherford and this year is no different.

Yes, the caliber of horses has dropped off at the Meadowlands; Saturday features a $7,500-$10,000 claiming handicap.  There is no sense complaining about it; this is the new reality.  Without alternative gaming, there is nothing the Meadowlands can do about attracting a better class of overnight horse.  The only thing in their control is having race secretary extraordinaire Peter Koch continue writing races which are competitive with the stock available to him.

Of course, the Meadowlands is not the only track suffering from short fields due to a decreasing foal crop.  One would expect Freehold to have similar problems as the Meadowlands and you would be right, but what about some slot tracks?  Monticello Raceway has cut back and is only programming nine and ten race cards and still has some short fields; six horse fields and fewer races on the card are common at Vernon Downs; Pocono Downs starters per race is declining.  Of course, for slot tracks where handle isn't as big of a concern the problem may not be raising immediate concern, but when legislators start seeing seven race programs with four horses per race, they may wonder if the slot money these tracks receive is a good investment.  While a track or two may not care as they are doing relatively well horse-wise, it would be in the long term interest of the other tracks to negotiate schedule changes to maximize their use of the declining foal crop.

You can tell times are bad in New Brunswick when Horse Racing New Brunswick gets locked out of their offices, bar, simulcast area, and slots at Fredericton Raceway by the property owner for alleged violations of their lease.  Among the violations is HRNB has planned to race only three days at Fredericton when the lease calls for a full slate of racing programs.  Of course, there were allegedly financial breaches as well.  Considering HRNB has slot machines, one would have to wonder if HRNB is really located in Atlantic City.

Saturday, May 14, 2016

The Exchange, Charting, and The Great Debate

UPDATE:  The Meadowlands has just been added to the Betting Exchange.  When the article was originally posted, the Meadowlands was not.

Exchange Wagering is underway in New Jersey and is likely to kick into high gear this weekend with the opening of Monmouth Park.  Being inquisitive, I took a spin on 'The Exchange' to see how it works.  I only backed horses, leaving the 'lay' bets (betting against a horse) to those with bigger bankrolls.

So far, there is no harness racing available on the exchange.  The Meadowlands is supposed to become part of the exchange except it is reportedly being held up due to a dispute over how wagers are being handled by bettors placing their wagers at the Meadowlands using their ADW accounts  Both parties agree there is a need to solve this problem, the question is how.  One has to wonder why Geofencing which is being used on the exchange can't be introduced to 4NJBets?  This would seemingly solve the problem.  One would hope some trotting tracks will be willing to be part of the exchange and come on line soon.

Prior to Monmouth's opening, the only major thoroughbred track available was Woodbine.  While most of the tracks are accepting 'in-play' wagers, wagers being placed during the race, some tracks only allow wagering before the race begins.  This can still be beneficial to the gambler as they can get fixed odds for their wager, often better than the price you can get at off-time (of course, the opposite is possible too) traditionally.  Whether higher or lower than the final pari-mutuel odds, you are getting a price you are satisfied with and not getting your play pounded at the last minute.

One thing which is striking is if you check your account history and you have a winning wager, there is a separate line item showing the deduction for the rake.  Ouch!  Seeing the rake as a separate line item makes you see how bad the takeout can be.  Reminds me of the good ol' days when you went to an OTB in New York and saw the track payoffs and then saw the prices OTB was paying.  Still the rake is lower than the regular parimutuels.

It takes a little time to get used to how things are displayed, but the exchange is easy to use.  Considering how often horses I select get pounded down, the exchange is a welcome option for win wagers.  You still need to go through the regular parimutuel pools for anything other than win wagers.  

Nothing worse than your sulky breaking into two as you come down the stretch.  This is what happened Friday night at Northville Downs as Tim Driver took a spill in the 11th race as the sulky he was using shattered while driving Spec T.   We assume (and hope)  Driver didn't suffer any serious injuries.

Next time horseplayers see the program with Spec T racing, it may be a bit confusing as the horse was charted with broken equipment (correct) but finishing fourth and being disqualified and placed 8th (huh?).  Anytime I have seen something like this happen in the past the horse has been charted with a DNF.  If this is the charter's discretion, there needs to be a standard put in place how these incidents are charted.

If you are on Facebook, you may be aware of the ongoing debate regarding Standardbred Canada refusing to accept the name 'Only God Knows Why' for the foal of Sydney Weaver's broodmare Sydney Seelster.  Sydney is a beloved individual within North American harness racing but this doesn't mean the same policies regarding horse names which apply to others shouldn't apply to her.  Yet, her family is continuing to campaign for the name selected in Harnesslink's contest (which should have been checked first before being offered as a possible winner).  The way this debate has been going on unabated, it is only a matter of time until Fox News starts covering it with the fervor of their annual 'Happy Holidays' vs. 'Merry Christmas' debate.

Some may say this is political correctness running amok.  It may be easy to say this when it benefits you, but there may be a time when tossing PC is going to offend you.  In this case, you may not be offended by a name with 'God' in it.  Would you feel the same way if someone named a horse suggesting your favorite deity was dead?  Better to be PC; it is safer.

I understand the Weavers' disappointment in having the name turned down, and realize there is some discretion used by the individual who reviews names at the breed registry but it is time to let this issue rest.  If all the time spent debating this issue was spent debating serious issues which face harness racing, the sport would be in a much better position.

This is the end of this discussion as far as I am concerned.

For those who are not in the Elitlopp spirit yet, here is a short promotional video being shown locally.

Friday, May 13, 2016

Confederation Cup Preview

The blog has been quiet this week with yours truly spending time in the hospital but we are back now in time to review the Confederation Cup which will be contested Sunday at Flamboro Downs.  Wiggle It Jiggleit once again draws poorly, post position 9 which on the Flamboro oval is the second tier.

WIJI so far this year has a record of  6-4-2-0 which considering is his first year racing against older horses is quite an accomplishment.  However, it does show wagering on him on such low odds doesn't make sense.  Let's say you had wagered $2 to win on each of his starts this year, investing $12.  These six wagers would have netted you a -$1.30 profit; clearly not a profitable proposition.  Hence, the goal here is to figure out if there is anyone who has a fair chance of beating him at satisfactory odds.  Let's take a look at the field and see if we can find a play which makes sense.

Sunday, May 15, 2016
Flamboro Downs 11th Pace - $244,400; Confederation Cup (Ex, Tri, Super Hi-5)  
1 - Rodeo Romeo (9-2, B Miller) - Tries better company off of Pocono win.  Can't rule out.
2 - My Hero Ron (6-1, Kakaley) -  Racing in upper condition races.  Tough spot to win first race of season.
3 - Americanprimetime (10-1, Christoforou) - Defeated by #1 in last start when he had the rail.  Not likely.
4 - Rockin Ron (3-1, Gingras) - 9 for 9 this year out in Midwest.  Will see how good he really is.  At 3-1 or higher, a worthwhile pick.
5 - Drachan Hanover (12-1, Waples) -  Been racing well at the Hawk.   A legitimate longshot play at 9-1 or more.
6 - National Seelster (8-1, Filion) -  Don't see him at this level.  Pass.
7 - Rock In Heaven (7-1, Henry) -  Winner of last will need to step it up to win.
8 - Rock N Roll World (9-1, Macdonald) -  Seems to have come back as a different horse.  Use in exotics despite post.
9 - Wiggle It Jiggleit (6-5, Teague) - Clearly the best.  Do you play at odds-on from second tier?  Your choice.

Selections - 5-9-4-8-1

Sunday, May 8, 2016

How Did The Top 20 Drivers Make Out In First Third Of Season?

We’re a third of the way through 2016, so I took a look at how the drivers in the current top 20, by earnings, are faring in relation to this point in the 2015 season. These figures are for the end of April.

 Jason Bartlett, who just turned 35, and settled the question about whether Yonkers Raceway belongs to Brennan or Sears by taking it over himself, tops the list, just as he did at the end of April last year. As of April 27, Jason had made only seven more starts, but he had 54 more wins and had banked almost $30,000 more. His UDRS went from a very good 0.338 to an outstanding 0.402.

Tim Tetrick, who lost early season time to recovery from a hip replacement two years ago and represented the US in the World Driving Championship in Australia last year, stayed home and racked up enough wins to occupy the second spot on the list. In 2015 he was in seventh at this point. Tetrick, 34, has driven in 244 more races and accrued 65 more wins. He’s $598,000 ahead of where he was going into May of last year. Mach It So and Rockeyed Optimist have raced well for him.

Last year’s dash champ, 37-year-old Aaron Merriman, tops both the money and win lists a third of the way in. In 2015 he was sixth on the earnings list at this point. The day/night racing machine is up around 1,400 starts, 95 more than last year, and he has 13 more wins. Aaron, who drives at The Meadows and Northfield, is up $410,000 over late April, 2015. His UDRS is also up slightly.

Matt Kakaley, who has improved his standing with each passing year, moves up from number eight a year ago to the four slot. The drive and win figures are about the same, but his earnings have increased by more than $322,000. He was second in the lucrative Levy final with Ron Burke’s All Bets Off.

Brian Sears is fifth, just as he was one year ago. He drove in 23 fewer races but logged 16 more wins. His money is down $133,000. Four drivers in the top ten have banked less than they did in the first third of 2015. Sears’ UDRS is up from 0.307 to 0.346.

Twenty-eight-year-old Jordan Stratton, who dominated the Levy with Bit Of A Legend N, who took all five $50,000 preliminary legs as well as the $609,000 final, and also won five legs of the Matchmaker with Al Raza N and Sell A Bit N, has made the leap from number 32 a year ago to number six. He has 32 more wins (up 46%) and $925,000 more in earnings (up 54%) than at this point in 2015. His UDRS went from 0.165 to 0.244.

World record holder Dave Palone, 54, has jumped from number 12 to number 7. His drives are up by 133; leading to 22 more wins and $321,000 more in earnings.

George Brennan, the HTA DOY in 2012 and 2013, has dropped from fourth to eighth. His dash total is about the same, despite 43 fewer drives. His money is off by $234,000. Brennan’s UDRS rose from 0.249 to 0.274.

Early season commitments in faraway places have put Corey Callahan in position to play catch up for the rest of the year. 190 fewer drives have led to 102 fewer wins and a shortage of $820,000. Callahan was in second as the calendar was about to flip to May in 2015, but he’s presently in ninth.

Dan Dube, who won the Matchmaker with Yagonnakissmeornot, started very fast in 2015, primarily with Rene Allard’s stock at Yonkers Raceway. The 46-year-old Quebec native cooled off a little this winter, as he dropped from three to ten, with 43 fewer wins and $810,000 less in the earnings column. His UDRS dropped from 0.292 to 0.223.

Mike Wilder, who turned 44 a few weeks ago, jumped from 17 a year ago to number 11. His drives are up by 175 and he has 25 more wins and $ 260,000 more in earnings.

We already saw Jordan Stratton leap ahead 26 spots to number six, well, Jim Pantaleano, who has been winning plenty of races at The Meadows with a stable full of fresh stock, jumped 36 spots to number 12. His 289 more drives have resulted in 52 more wins and $699,000 more in earnings. His UDRS rose from 0.237 to 0.276.

Scott Zeron, who has is now a regular in New York and Pennsylvania, as well as at The Meadowlands, where he’s the leading driver, has driven in 200 more races than he had at this point last year. He’s got 44 more wins and has increased his earnings by $488,000. His UDRS rose from 0.211 to 0.259. The nearest WEG driver is seven spots below Zeron. Heading South has proven to be a winning move.

Tony Hall jumped nine spots from 23 to number 14. He has driven in 215 more races; won 19 more and banked an extra $300,000 in the first four months of 2015. His UDRS dipped from 0.281 to 0.246.

Josh Sutton moved up six spots to number 15. He only got seven more wins out of 100 extra drives, but his earnings increased by $287,000. His UDRS dropped from 0.330 to 0.294. Sutton finished last year at number 36.

Tony Morgan has stepped his game up markedly this year. He was at 31 this time last year, but is now at number 16. His 39 more drives have yielded an impressive 42 more wins. The money is up by $344,000 and his UDRS increased from 0.242 to 0.314. Morgan wound up at number 37 at the close of 2015.

Yannick Gingras, 36, is at number 17, seven spots back of last year. He has nine fewer drives, 18 fewer wins and is short more than $243,000. His UDRS dropped from 0.342 to 0.272. Not to worry; the money leader the past two years makes his dough in the six- month stretch between June and November, when those Takter and Burke youngsters are tearing it up. The latter had some success in the Levy series with Take It Back Terry and All Bets Off, but Brennan and Kakaley drove that pair. Also, Gingras lost time when he competed in the International All Star Series Down Under.

Chris Page jumped ten spots to number 18, with 24 more wins on only a half dozen more drives and an extra $250,000. His UDRS increased from 0.223 to 0.257. Chris, 32, finished the 2015 season at number 23.

The 2013 and 2014 dash winner, Ronnie Wrenn Jr, dropped three spots to number 19. He drove in 158 fewer races; had 29 fewer wins and saw his earnings drop by more than $18,000. However, his UDRS jumped from 0.386 to 0.414.

And George Napolitano Jr, who took most of the winter off, occupies the same number 20 slot he did last year. The soon to be 50-year-old did drive in 87 more races than last year and won 15 more times. His money was up $53,000. This early stretch reflects little from Harrah’s and Pocono, so it doesn’t say much about GNap, who finished in the runner up spot for the 2015 dash title.

Brett Miller, who accompanied Corey Callahan and Yannick Gingras to the All Star Driving Series in Australia, dropped from ninth to 32. He is short 150 drives and $560,000. He’s been driving a lot for Jimmy Takter, who is just getting warmed up, so he’ll make up that ground.

Eric Carlson, who was very successful last winter at Yonkers, dropped out of the top 50, after being number 10 at this point in 2015.

And David Miller, who took the winter off, went from 13 to number 47. That obviously won’t last.

Joe FitzGerald


Friday, May 6, 2016

Race Spotlight: Mack Lobell Elitlopp Playoff

This Sunday, the Meadowlands has a rare Sunday card which features the Mack Lobell Elitlopp Playoff.  Not only does this race come with an invite to the Elitlopp, it is an early season match-up of horses which will no doubt be competing for year-end honors.  The Playoff, is the first race on a trot-laden card (the first six races) which comprise the V64 wager in Europe.

The Elitlopp Playoff is a particularly challenging race as some of these horses are hard to gauge, either coming off of long layoffs or shipping in from other tracks.  Can we look at last year's accomplishments and assume these horses will be at peak level or will some have lost or even gained a step this year?  It makes for quite a handicapping puzzle.

Here is my analysis of the field:

Sunday, May 8th
1st Meadowlands - Trot - $150,000; Mack Lobell Elitlopp Playoff
1 - JL Cruze (Campbell, 2-1) - 3 for 3 this year.  Nice freshner in the morning.  Clearly the logical choice but with so many other angles to consider, will look elsewhere.  
2 - DW's NY Yank (Kakaley, 20-1) - Been trying his luck over on the Hilltop oval.  Should find the mile oval more to his style.  Seems to be a step below these.
3 - Wind Of The North (Brennan, 30-1) - 2 for 3 this year in Florida.  Note his loss came against Natural Herbie.  Prepped with a fast jog at Rosecroft.  Picks up Brennan who crosses the river for the first time this year.  Not tossing this one away.  At 20-1 or higher, he's my pick.
4 - Resolve (Svanstedt, 10-1) - TVG FFA champ returns off of decent first start, losing to Queen Bee.  Expect better effort here.  May land share.
5 - Obrigado (MacDonald, 20-1) - Makes seasonal debut.  Figure he needs this race.  Pass.
6 - Gural Hanover (Gingras, 8-1) - Has yet to defeat this year #1 and #7.  A step below the top contenders.
7 - Bee A Magician (Sears, 9-5) -Winner of last race who figures to be even better.  Only knock is an outer post.  Definitely contends. 
8 - Crazy Wow (Tetrick, 15-1) - Millionaire joins the rank of aged trotters in first start of season.  Love him but not here.
9 - Shake It Cerry (D. Miller, 4-1) - Mare has been sharp thus far but draws the worst of it.  Include in exotics. 

Selections: 1-4-7
Longshot Play: #3

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Fight the Urge, Bet Standardbred

Unless you live on a different planet, you know Saturday is Kentucky Derby Day.  Like most Americans, even if you are a dedicated standardbred fan, you are going to be playing the race.  Face it.  Most tracks have already announced their special Derby Day festivities and in the next two days you will be hearing personalities from your local harness track telling you who they like in the Derby even though they spend more than 95% of their time, living and breathing standardbreds.

Let's face it, serious handicappers are going to be playing the Derby card; how does one avoid these deep handles?  But if you aren't a heavy hitter, you can fight the urge as the following tracks areoffering you a standardbred product to wager on while you await the Kentucky Derby:

  • Saratoga Raceway and The Downs at Mohegan Sun Pocono are both having doubleheaders with Pocono's first card starting at 11am while Saratoga's matinee beginning at 12:15pm.
  • Harrah's Philadelphia which typically is dark on Saturdays will be racing an afternoon card starting at 12:40pm.
  • Northville Downs begins racing at 2:00pm 
  • Scarborough Downs starts at 2:00pm

North of the border, there are these tracks with afternoon racing (all times local):
  • Century Downs Racetrack and Casino out in Alberta, Canada begins their program at 1:10pm 
  • The Raceway at Western Fair District begins their card at 1:15pm.

Of course, most tracks are racing their normal evening cards, perhaps starting a little earlier, hoping to entice some of those who came for the Derby to hang around.

Fight the urge.  Bet Standardbred.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Horsemen - Enter Heather's Harness Racing Next Gen Contest

I hope you take the time to enter Heather's Harness Racing Next Gen Contest!

What is Heather's Harness Racing Next Gen Contest??? Glad you asked!

Hockey team visiting the track.  Michael Lisa Photo

Yannick Gingras visiting a French class to talk about harness racing.

Simon Allard visiting daughter's pre-school class.
There are so many ways to expose the sport to our youth. Yannick Gingras is known for doing things like talking to high school French classes or taking his kid's hockey team to the races. Simon Allard recently visited his daughter's school to talk about the sport. I've done everything from having my son Wyatt's Boy Scouts group to the farm to speaking in local classrooms. 

A visit to the farmtrack by the Boy Scouts.

Now, it's your turn! Here are the details for the contest!

To Enter: Email me a picture to of how you educated a group of at least five kids (Ages 18 & under) about harness racing.

Please be aware that the picture you email to me will be posted on Facebook.

Give me the details of the picture...which school or track or farm? when? what group?

What if you've never presented to a group of kids before!?

Hey! That's OK because you've got two more weeks to visit a local school or Scouts group or 4-H, etc and present to them or invite them to your farm or track!

The contest ends at midnight on May 18!  (Note:  If you can't organize a program in the next two weeks, you can still hold a program.  It is important the racing community holds these types of outreaches all year long.)

AND THAT'S NOT ALL! If you need resources to hand out to the kids, the great peeps at Harness Horse Youth Foundation said that all you have to do is contact them with two weeks notice (with ages of kids and how many) and they can sent out a care package with cool handouts and resources and all you do is pay for shipping the box! Basically, that means you have to contact them them today! 

(I'm hoping that having cool stuff to hand out will also give incentive for some of you who have already presented to kids...will do it AGAIN!)

ONE entry (aka post picture on this page with details) per person and the winner will be drawn at random.

Prize: In addition to feeling like you're changing the world and getting a huge pat on the back from me, grin emoticon you could win a great harness racing fan goodie package of hats, shirts, etc including a FOILED AGAIN BREYER MODEL!

If you have questions, please email me at

Have fun!!!

Hugs, Heather 

Time to Acknowledge it's Time to Subsidize Horse Ownership

The Auckland Trotting Club has announced a new incentive plan to help promote harness racing starting with the 2016/17 season which begins August 1.  Under this plan, owners will receive a minimum $250 per starter while trainers will receive $150.

At first blush many would argue a plan like this would never work.  However, taking a step back, would something like this help attract and/or keep owners in the sport?

Now, let's state up front, not every purse account will be able to support combined payments of $400 for each starter.  However, what if the payment was $75 per owner and $50 per trainer at Scarborough Downs, leaving the full payment for major raceways.  Whatever can be directed to owners and trainers would help immensely in keeping them (in particular owners) in the sport as it would help them with the monthly bills.  Being trainers are hired by the owners, I would envision the $150 incentive being factored into the training bill.

Yes, there is the fear owners and trainers may race horses who should be staying in the stall in order to get their incentive, but this can be policed by stewards fining trainers for presenting horses unfit for racing as well as putting horses on the vet list when appropriate.  Imagine what these payments would mean to owners and trainers; the difference between showing a profit or loss which may determine whether or not they remain in the game; possibly a reduction in medication abuse because everyone knows they will be getting something at the end of the day.

The problem is it is time for racing to acknowledge the cost for horse ownership is moving beyond the means of the ordinary person which has been the backbone of the industry in the past.  For the industry to attract and retain new ownership, the truth is the sport is going to need to subsidize the cost of horse ownership.  Consider the $250 per starter fee an owner would get.  Assume a horse makes 32 starts; a subsidy of $8,000 a year is not going to make ownership profitable on its own, but it tilts the scale towards profitability yet leaves a large portion of horse ownership with the owner.

The way things are structured, these payments will need to come from purse accounts if only for the fact casino operators are not going to wish to increase their expenses.  Yes, purses would have to decrease to cover these costs which some may complain about but owners and trainers need to remember these payments will help when the inevitable dry patch hits; it benefits all.

Monday, May 2, 2016

Not Showing Love to Illinois Racing; A New Frontier in the Announcer Booth

Horsemen are hopping made out in Illinois.  A press release on behalf of the IHHA condemns the fact state legislators are looking to legalize fantasy sports gambling which produces no jobs in the Prairie state instead of working on fixing horse racing which employees 14,000 in the state (all breeds).

Granted, it is a lot easier to legalize daily fantasy sports (DFS) contests than it will to fix horse racing.  The fact the state will no doubt tax (charge fees to) companies offering DFS gives them the incentive to do so as well.  Also making it easier for passing a DFS bill is the fact no slot machines are attached to the legislation though no doubt the casinos in Illinois would love to have sports gaming but that will likely depend on what happens with the New Jersey lawsuit.

Still, horse racing has been on life support for a long time.  A bill allowing slots at racetracks in Illinois passed in 2012 only to be vetoed by then Governor Quinn. Since then, no other racino bill has been able to get support, leaving harness racing dependent on one extended meet track (Hawthorne) and thoroughbred racing in similarly dire straights.

External factors have caused Maywood to shutter though if not for the scandal the track may have still closed.  Balmoral is now shuttered, given no dates this year, with an auction of its assets put on hold because someone came out in the last moment offering to buy the track; exactly for what purpose is not known.  Thoroughbreds are split between Arlington and Hawthorne with a summer meet at Fairmount Park; none of these tracks are exactly thriving.  Arlington just settled a dispute with their horsemen which arose when among other things they attempted to change the way they card races, to put on the least expensive racing possible.

Yes, it is hard work to pass a racing bill in Illinois, having to fight the casino industry always is.  But not to even try to get a racing bill through is inexcusable.

A new frontier has been broken through as Golden Gate Fields has hired the first full time female race caller in North America.  Angela Hermann, the on-air personality and substitute track announcer at Canterbury Park has been given the nod and will be in the booth.  No doubt this will be quite a change for race goers and it will be interesting to see how she will be received.  As far as I am concerned, it may be a bit strange initially but as long as the calls are accurate, that is all which matters.  It will be interesting to see how long it will be until there is a full time distaff announcer in the booth at one of harness racing's raceways.