For photos from the Meadowlands contact

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

If I Can Dream and Muscle Hill Corner the 2YO Sire Stakes Market in New Jersey

On Friday night the first leg New Jersey Sire Stakes splits for freshman pacers and trotters will take place at The Meadowlands. As a result of a myriad of issues we don’t need to get into, we’ve gotten used to this program being stocked by a very limited number of stallions—primarily Rocknroll Hanover and Muscle Hill. The former passed in March of 2013 and his last crop of 44 will race in the PASS this year. Muscle Hill, on the other hand, is in his final year of two-year-old eligibility in New Jersey; his freshmen will be eligible to the PASS in 2017.

All 25 trotters competing in the NJSS on Friday are by Muscle Hill. That’s not radically different from last year, when that one’s sire Muscles Yankee, who was exhausting his eligibility in New Jersey, also contributed some. And the fact that Muscle Hill and Muscles Yankee are premier trotting stallions seemed to make it OK.

On the other side, all ten fillies and all seven colts are by the marginal stallion If I Can Dream, who stood at Deo Volente Farms for four years. The winner of the BC, Messenger and Tattersalls Pace had a distinguished career on the track, but he’s no Rocknroll at stud, so looking at a program page fully stocked with his progeny is a shock to the system. Forty Five Red won the Sheppard while Big Boy Dreams took the Matron and the Windy City, but the son of Western Hanover hasn’t exhibited the credentials needed to carry a major sire stakes program. He stood two years in New York, followed by four in New Jersey. If I Can Dream stood for $5,000 last year in the Garden State, and is standing for $2,500 in Ohio in 2016. His current two-year-old class is drawn from 45 registered foals.

What happens next year when the Muscle Hill freshman class is no longer eligible in New Jersey? Trixton was received like royalty last year, breeding 140 mares, but the resulting issues won’t come online until 2018. The diminutive Conway Hall stallion, Wishing Stone, who won the Kentucky Futurity and accumulated more than $2 million on both sides of the pond, was doing double duty He has 16 yearlings who will join the fray next year, but he moved on to Ohio in 2015, so there won’t be much help from him.

The journeyman Credit Winner millionaire Calchips Brute has also been doing double duty in New Jersey, but he only bred 19 mares in 2014 and 2015 combined, resulting in ten foals, so that’s eight more to add to the mix next year. Obviously things are going to be stretched to the max until the Trixton offspring shows up, and that will put the program back into the same old one stallion funk it’s in right now.

Things are even less promising on the pacing side, where there is no Trixton to overcome geography and whatever other obstacles are placed before him. After five years in Ontario, Lis Mara, the fastest son of Cambest, the winner of the BC, Franklin and CPD, and the sire of speedball Mel Mara, emigrated to New Jersey for the 2015 season, but he only bred a dozen mares. And the American Ideal pacer Great Vintage took up residence at Walnridge Farm last year, but the record only shows him breeding nine mares. Also, Rocknroll Heaven, who stood five years in New York and has failed to live up to expectations, was relocated to Deo Volente this year. It will be 2019 before he adds to the mix. So, considering that there will only be a handful of If I Can Dream freshmen around next year, things are going from bad to worse.

A residency based program for mares has seemingly been in the works forever. And this year a new SDF (Standardbred Development Fund) program will commence for two-year-olds and the offspring of mares that have resided in the state for 150 days, regardless of the sire’s location. While all of the Premier Division races will continue to be held at The Meadowlands, the SDF races will all take place at Freehold, beginning September 23. This will help, but it doesn’t solve the problem of a Premier Division stuffed to the gills with If I Can Dream stock.

Joe FitzGerald

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Benjamin Franklin Blues

On one of groups I belong to, I came across a posting which struck me as being quite poignant.  I come from the days when the grandstand and racetrack apron were full on weekends and during the week, a respectable crowd still gathered.  I cringe at what I see today. 

My thanks and appreciation to Gill Winston for allowing me to share this post with everyone here at VFTRG. 

I was at Yonkers and then Roosevelt for the two most anticipated harness races in history - the memorable clashes between Cardigan Bay and Bret Hanover.  The tracks were packed with tens of thousands of screaming fans, some with signs, some wearing buttons extolling their favorite.  The coverage was national and blazed on the back pages of every newspaper.

How many people will trek up in to the mountains for this race?  I can promise you that of all the people gambling at Pocono Downs on Saturday night, there will be more people at the slot machines than on the apron when the race goes off.  What percentage of Americans knows or even cares about this race?

Three honest-to-goodness champions going head to head to head for a half million dollar purse.  Will you be one of the few, the proud, who actually goes to see the race live?  A few more people will watch the race at a simo venue or on their personal viewing devices.  A lot more people will be screaming for 7-7-7 or for Willie Wonka to anoint them with free spins.

Remember that old TV commercial with the Indian with tears in his eyes looking that the end product of a forest fire?  Some may be offended by referring to a Native American as an Indian, or comparing the devastation of a forest fire to a horse race -- but you get the analogy.  This is a sad day.

As for the race, all 3 champions are razor sharp. The draw is in and WIJI (post 3) gets the advantage of the draw.  He has shown superior early speed and draws inside of Always B Miki (7) and Freeky Feet Pete (6).  Will ABMs entry mate, Sunfire Blue Chip, be sent on a suicide mission to take down Wiggle It Jiggleit?

Mel Mara has the rail, and can definitely be a factor if he trips out.  However that last losing battle with ABM might have taken the fight out of him the way Rockin Ron seemed to lose his edge after his losing battle with Wiggle It Jiggleit.

 A great race anticipated, for the few of us who still care.

So happens, today Darin Zoccali's post on the DRF Harness website is about harness racing's perceived decline or untapped potential depending on how you look at things..  He acknowledges if you look at racing as a spectator sport you may be right, but if you look at it as  gambling activity, there is a lot of potential there for an upward turn. Needless to say, Zoccali is a 'gambling' activity man.

Well, I am a sport first person.  While I hope racing does take advantage of its untapped potential, I feel sorry for those who haven't spent time at the track for they have missed something.  I consider myself blessed for having had the chance to experience the crowds.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Gural Holds Gun to Vernon Downs Horsemen Head

I know a few of the readers of the blog have been wanting to see how I respond to the report of Jeff Gural threatening the horsemen at Vernon Downs with closing the track unless they manage to get the horsemen associations who oppose changing New York law to allow him to race his horses at tracks owned by him in New York, in particular Vernon Downs.  Some believe I give Jeff Gural a free pass when he does things wrong.  Well, they are wrong, and this instance proves it.

After pondering this for a few days and getting confirmation from a third party regarding the letter's contents, let me put it this way (delicately), this was not Jeff Gural's finest moment.  In fact, Gural should take back what he wrote in the memo sent to horsemen stabled on the grounds at Vernon; a letter which any enforcer would be proud of. 

To threaten closing Vernon Downs if Gural's arch-nemesis Joe Faraldo doesn't change course and stop blocking the passage of a bill which would allow him to race at Vernon or Tioga as per conditions in the horsemen' contract is plain wrong.  While Gural has had problems with the horsemen's association at Vernon for a long time (as he puts it, "being treated like s**t"), they have not been the stumbling block in this fight; his foes are the horsemen at tracks not owned by him whose horsemen association wrote letters opposing the bill.  Truth be told, it may not even be the horsemen at the other tracks, but the leaders of their associations who are sympathetic to Mr. Faraldo's positions.

I'm not going to argue the pros and cons of this regulation; my personal opinion is closer to Faraldo's regarding this bill, but I don't have a bias against Gural.  In reality, this battle is all about two strong-minded people having another battle, using this legislation as another skirmish.  Unfortunately, the Vernon Horsemen stand to be collateral damage.

Look, any track operator has the right to close a track which continues to lose money year after year, but any decision on closing it should be done based on financials and yes, how your relationship is with your horsemen association overall.   Want to send them a letter telling them unless they are more flexible when you want to try initiatives you will be forced to close?  Fine.  Telling them you are going to close unless they get your arch-nemesis to fold is just so wrong.

Hopefully cooler heads will prevail.  We shall see.

Friday, June 24, 2016

Buying Into Promising Colts Prior to the Classics

Harness Racing Update recently reported that Tara Hills Stud had engineered a syndication of the Well Said colt Control The Moment, which would give them 13 % of the horse and the inside track on standing him, but no guarantee of breeding rights.

Down through the years many colts have been purchased in whole or part prior to the classic races. Some of these deals have been spectacular successes, others have failed miserably, while most have fallen somewhere in between.

Control The Moment won an O’Brien last year off of an 8 of 9 record and wins in the Metro and Nassagaweya. He finished fourth as the 7-5 favorite in his Cup elimination, and was third from the nine post at 8-1 in the final, after making most of the mile. He’s staked to the Pace, Cane, BC, Matron and Progress, among others. While it wouldn’t have summarily stamped him a success, a win in the Cup is a huge plus for any horse destined to stand in Canada.

Cup winner Betting Line isn’t staked to the Pace and is taking a two-month holiday from the Grand Circuit to concentrate on the OSS, so he has a leg up in that one. Control The Moment starts from the four in Saturday’s first Hempt elimination against Boston Red Rocks and JK Will Power.

One recent example of this practice gone wrong is Go Daddy Go. The son of Ponder won four races, including the Battle of Waterloo, at two, earning more than $365,000. That inspired Adam Bowden of Diamond Creek Farms, a Ponder fanatic, to buy into the colt in March of last year. He was rated fourth in the Road to the Cup Ranking shortly before the race, but things didn’t go well for Go Daddy Go in 2015 as he won only once and earned less than $75,000. He was ultimately sold to Rene Allard for $80,000 at the January 2016 Mixed Sale and has won twice in ten starts since, earning only $21,000 for his new connections. A mainstream stallion career is probably out of the question.

Control The Moment’s uber progenitor, Meadow Skipper, was purchased by Norman Woolworth from Hugh Grant for $150,000 after impressing Woolworth’s trainer Earle Avery in the Commodore Pace at Roosevelt Raceway in June, 1963. It was money well spent. Three months later Skipper upset Overtrick in the $163,187 Cane Pace; Woolworth got a big chunk of his money back right there. And it goes without saying that Skipper proved to be a very lucrative property as a stallion.

Meadow Skipper’s first crop son Most Happy Fella, who was purchased for $12,000 by Stanley and Rachel Dancer, was sold by the pair to Blue Chip Farms for a million dollars. The agreement was entered into prior to Happy’s Jug win and one stipulation was that the Dancer’s race him and retain all of his earnings. MHF earned $387,000 at three. Blue Chip made out just fine on this deal, as Most Happy Fella became one of our greatest pacing sires. He passed prematurely after an accident at age 17, but he’d reshaped the breed by then.

The Dancers and Mac Cuddy sold Bonefish to Castleton for a million dollars right after the son of Nevele Pride beat Yankee Bambino in the Hambletonian, which turned out to be his final start. He stood in Kentucky for a dozen years before being exported to Sweden. While he failed to extend himself, Bonefish was a very productive stallion. His broodmare credits include: Valley Victory, Moni Maker, Supergill, Winky’s Goal and King Conch. He was well worth the million dollars.

 A Dancer deal that didn’t work out—for them—was selling Oil Burner and Afella Rainbow to Bill Brooks for $80,000 in May, 1976 when Oil Burner was three-years-old. Dancer felt the son of MHF was too moody and impulsive. Difficult demeanor notwithstanding, he went on to earn more than $530,000 for Ben Webster that year and the next, and while he was no great shakes as a stallion, he did give us the game changing No Nukes.

No Nukes’ first crop son Jate Lobell, who won all 15 starts at two, was syndicated for $12 million at three when Tom Crouch bought 25% of him for $3 million. He earned $1.6 million as a sophomore and won his division for the second time, but he dropped 10 of his 25 starts. Run The Table beat him in the NJSS; he lost to Frugal Gourmet in the Pace and the Messenger; and he was beaten by Call For Rain in the Slutsky and BC. He was very good, but no Niatross or Nihilator as some had projected him to be. The competition made a solid run at him, introducing him to heat the N Boys never felt. Riyadh was Jate’s greatest son, and his only sub-49 offspring. Jate Lobell stood at Kentuckiana Farms for two decades, most of the latter part of that time for $5,000. He didn’t live up to the lofty expectations couched in that $12 million syndication and failed to extend himself, but he was far from a bust.

Sonsam won 14 of his 17 starts at two and was syndicated for a record $3 million after that season, an amount that was subsequently upped to $8 million when the Guida Group purchased 5 of the 40 shares for $200,000 each. He won the Pace on a much acclaimed backstretch sweep, as well as his division the following year, and earned almost $575,000. Sonsam fit the stallion template for the sons of Albatross: some early success, then a precipitous drop from relevance. Champion two-year-old Till We Meet Again was his only millionaire.

Hot Hitter (Strike Out), from that same crop, was also caught up in the syndicating frenzy that gripped the sport during that era. His three owners sold 60% of him to Guida for $3.6 million in August of his sophomore season, but the deal wasn’t made public until late September. He captured his division off wins in the Jug, Messenger, Adios, Prix d’Ete and Confederation Cup, but Herve Filion’s charge was an abject failure at stud.

Barry Abrams paid $100,000 for Guts in the fall of his two-year-old form, when he had won once in seven starts and earned $11,000. This proved to be a great deal. The big, deliberate son of Raven Hanover did battle with shifty little On The Road Again all year, losing a neck to that one in the Pace but beating him in the Holmes. He also won the Battle of Brandywine. Guts banked more than a million dollars on 14 wins at three. He had as much interest in covering mares as he had in jumping over the Moon, but he earned $1.6 million on the track at ages three through nine.

Peter Heffering, Irving Liverman and associates scored a knockout when they purchased Kadabra for $800,000 early in his three-year-old season. The Illinois bred wasn’t staked to the Hambletonian, but he won 15 times at three and four, including the BC, CTC and Stanley Dancer, earning $1.4 million and is now a prolific stallion. He stands for $12,000 (US) in Ontario.

Harmonious was on sale prior to winning the 1990 Hambletonian. The asking price was $850,000 plus another $500,000 if he won the big one.

Grades Singing proved to be a steal when she was purchased for $13,000 at two.

Lawrence B Sheppard bought Dashing Rodney for $125,000 two days prior to the 1964 Kentucky Futurity. Sheppard’s diminutive son of Stars Pride, Ayres, won the race, completing his quest for the Triple Crown, but Dashing Rodney finished second for Harold Dancer Sr. He went on to win several European stakes, so that one worked out just fine.

We could judge the success or failure of the Control The Moment deal off of what he does in this year’s classics, but we really need several years after he retires to assess his value as a stallion. That’s assuming he doesn’t fall flat like Go Daddy Go did and put a breeding career out of reach.

Joe FitzGerald

Thursday, June 23, 2016

One Last Share The Delight Update

Those of you who have been long time followers of this blog know I have had a soft spot for Share The Delight (1:48.4,4, $540,952), a tough campaigner who raced in the States against the likes of Art Official and Somebeachsomewhere.  During his five year old campaign, he was sold and exported to Wales to begin a new career as a sire; his new owners had hopes of him becoming a major sire in the United Kingdom.

How time flies.  Share The Delight is now 11 years old so I decided it was time for one last check-in to see how he has done on the other side of the pond.

Unfortunately, it became clear STD is not destined to become the sire of stakes-caliber horses there as I got this message from my acquaintance in the UK:

Sorry for the late reply. Llwyns Delight has won a race this season, Cavendish won last year.

Brywins Mayhem won once last year and Greenhill Lillian has won in the amateur racing.

That's it. I'm afraid he has been a bit of a disappointment despite serving some good mares. I wish it was better news!

Then today, ten days later, I received the following e-mail:

Just to let you know that last night Llwyns Delight (Share The Delight-Bon Sian-Master Scoot) won my local meeting's heat and final. He's a half brother to one of the UK's top racehorses, Bon Jasper, who has been racing (and winning) from 2 to 12 (and continues to race this season).

Llwyns Delight is the horse I said had been one of the most successful by S-T-D and he was impressive last night on the half mile turf track which suited the staying horses. It was soft in places with a stiff incline on the run in and the horse handled it easily in his heat and overturned the heavily backed favourite Coalford Tetrick in the final as well as other fancied horses.

He's a homebred, owned, trained and driven by brothers Robin and Lee Price who live a couple of miles from the track at Cilmery, mid Wales. Lee is one of my fellow directors on the board for the Standardbred as Trotting Horse Association of Great Britain and Ireland (STAGBI) which is the recognised breed society and passport issuing organisation for Standardbreds in the UK. He was my successor as Secretary for a short time and has been involved in racing all his life, having also ridden in saddle races (monte style) in his youth. He's now encouraging his two young sons to take part in pony races this summer at some of the turf meetings.

Brywins Vincent was also a maiden winner last night (Share The Delight-Vociferous-Dragons Lair). He showed promise at Monmouth last week on the turf and perhaps the bigger track last night helped him.

Cavendish (Share The Delight-Ayr Quality-House Of Cards) runs at Musselburgh on Saturday. Musselburgh is one of the four premier meetings in the UK calendar and is staged tomorrow night and Saturday afternoon.

Who knows, while he may not be the sire of champions, perhaps Share The Delight may make it as a raceway sire?

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

What Would Have Happened at Ocean Downs?

By now many of you may have seen the fifth race from Hoosier Park last night when Trace Tetrick became an unfortunate passenger of JDS when the right line of the horse broke before at the start of the race.  Fortunately for Tetrick, JDS had learned his lessons well as he raced himself along the inside, avoiding danger before the outrider was able to get hold of him.  All wagers on the race were refunded and all's well that ends well.

At most tracks, there is an outrider who is there for just this very reason, to ensure events like this don't end tragically.

However, one has to wonder what the situation would have been like at Ocean Downs in Maryland, where no outrider is present.  If the horse was like JDS and stayed to the inside, what may have happened is the horse would just have had to tire itself out.  But what if the horse decided to make a sharp unannounced turn to the right?  A collision resulting in injuries?  Horses having to be euthanized?  Drivers hospitalized or worse?

The time has come for ALL tracks to have outriders.  If management is unwilling to hire an outrider, horsemen should go to the Maryland Racing Commission and demand they order an outrider be employed.

Monday, June 20, 2016

First Crop Two-Year-Olds in 2016


The freshman class is prepping for Grand Circuit and Sires Stakes action at tracks all over North America. And while there is no Muscle Hill or Somebeachsomewhere among the purveyors of first crop trotters and pacers, there are some solid prospects that bear watching. In addition to that, there are several relocated stallions whose first crops in their new locations will come online in 2016.

Chapter Seven, world champion and 2012 Trotter of the Year, is the highest profile first crop stallion. The diminutive son of the ill-fated Windsong’s Legacy, who is a Triple Crown Winner and Hall of Fame Immortal, stands in New York for $7,500. Blue Chip paid $500,000 for a 20% stake in him, giving him a valuation of $2.5 million. He set a 1:50.1 world record at four and earned almost $2 million.

Chapter Seven bred 112 mares in 2013, resulting in the 84 registered foals that make up this year’s crop. Paternal Brother Lucky Chucky is about to send his third crop to the track, and while Dog Gone Lucky and Non Stick have impressed, the returns have not been favorable thus far. Let’s hope Chapter Seven gets off to a better start in the NYSS. To this point they are showing plenty of speed in baby races.

Archangel made a halting start to his breeding career in 2013. He was granted a waiver from the Gural Rule for a slight breathing issue and was advertised for a $4,000 fee in New York. He had won a break plagued Yonkers Trot in world record time, as well as the EBC, and been successful in the NYSS, earning about $900,000. A solid colt career but nothing to take your breath away and the breeders acted accordingly, sending only 43 mares his way. This resulted in the 30 registered foals being introduced in 2016.

Archangel’s daddy, Credit Winner, is still searching for a son who will extend him. Crazed, Chocolatier and Here Comes Herbie are currently his most prominent sire credits. Archangel’s dam, Michelle’s Angel, won the 2007 Casual Breeze and his grand dam Almost An Angel was the queen of her 2YO division in 1991.

Archangel returned to the track in 2014 where he only won two races, but one of them was a world record 1:50 in a Cashman elimination. This time he was retired to Ontario where he was made to feel wanted, drawing 108 mares. We’ll see how that small first crop makes out in the States this year.

Unlike his paternal brother Archangel, Dejarmbro was very popular in Ohio from day one. He bred 138 mares in each of his first two years there and 100 last year. There are 105 freshmen in this year’s crop, 61 of them colts. He was more successful than Archangel was in the NYSS at two as he won six legs and the final. Dejarmbro subsequently broke stride as the favorite in the Breeders Crown. At three his claim to fame was a dominant win in the Earl Beal where he matched the world record for his class.

Big Rigs, an Andover Hall 8-year-old out of 2002 O’Brien winner Filly At Bigs, has had fertility issues. He bred 58 mares in Ohio in 2013, but only got 10 registered foals from those pairings. In 2014 he only bred 19 mares and got a dozen foals from that; and last year the number bred dropped to eight. His fee dropped $1,000 from last year to this when he was relocated within Ohio.

The first crops in new locations of stallions that were moved for one reason or another obviously don’t carry the same air of mystery as the former group, but sometimes a step down in sire stakes affiliation can bring new life to a stallion.

Art Official, who conquered SBSW in the Pace, has been no match for that one in the Pennsylvania Sire Stakes. That fact is reflected in his bookings which dropped from 135 to 75 to 47 between 2010 and 2012. He took up residence in Ohio in 2013 and breeders with more modest expectations than the Keystone crowd sent 108 mares to him, resulting in the 67 two-year-olds that will hit the Ohio Sire Stakes this year.  The fact that his fee dropped from $7,000 to $5,000 when he arrived helped his cause. That fee has since decreased to $3,000 as his popularity has waned; he bred 72 mares in 2014 and 47 last year. The OSS is much easier to navigate than the PASS; we’ll see if Art Official can come alive in that more laid back Midwestern environment.

Crazed, the Credit Winner stallion who gave us JL Cruze and Crazy Wow, stood in New York for four years before being moved to Pennsylvania in 2013. That crop of 69, derived from 108 bookings, will be eligible to the PASS this year.

Crazed stayed two years in the Keystone State before returning to New York in 2015. The trotting division of the Pennsylvania Sires Stakes is very competitive, with the likes of Cantab Hall, Donato Hanover and Andover Hall, and with Muscle Hill joining the fray with a freshman crop next year. Tirade Hanover, Gural Hanover Crazy Wow and Crazy About Pat have flourished in the NYSS, but New York ain’t Pennsylvania.

Bettor’s Delight, arguably the most productive and consistent pacing sire on the planet, was relocated to Ontario after ten years in New York to make room for his little brother, Roll With Joe. His single 2015 crop in Ontario produced the likes of L A Delight and 2016 Cup winner Betting Line. This year’s crop of freshmen, and next as well, will compete in the Pennsylvania program. He bred 168 and 169 mares in 2013 and 2014 in PA, resulting in 126 and 115 registered foals. So the money machine will surely make his presence felt in that restricted program as well as on the Grand Circuit trail this year.

McArdle, who stood with modest success in Pennsylvania for $5000 until 2012, moved to Ohio with a $4,000 fee in 2013. His first Buckeye crop will emerge this year. He started his siring career in New Jersey in 2004. After two years there he moved to Pennsylvania for a seven- year stretch. McArdle has been very popular in Ohio with bookings of 176, 105 and 113 mares. There are 97 two-year-olds in his coming out crop. One More Laugh, McWicked and Big McDeal are three of his top offspring. He should do very well in a smaller pond like Ohio.

After standing seven seasons in New Jersey, Rocknroll Hanover was moved across the border to Pennsylvania in 2013. It was there that he passed in March of that year. The tricks of the trade allowed 93 mares to be bred to him, resulting in 44 registered foals. They will be Pennsylvania eligible this year.

Fifteen-year-old Ponder, who started his siring career in Pennsylvania in 2007, is back there and will introduce his first Keystone crop this year. He was relocated to Kentucky in 2008 and spent three years as the dominant stallion in their limited sire stakes program, before heading north to Ontario for a two-year residency.

Numbers have always been the issue for the sire of Thinking Out Loud and Bolt The Duer. He bred 99 mares in 2007, but has failed to top 76 in the ensuing eight years. He averaged 37 registered foals per year from his first eight crops. Those numbers have improved at Diamond Creek Farm in Pennsylvania. There are 24 colts and 20 fillies in this year’s crop of PA two-year-olds.

Deweycheatumnhowe was scheduled to remain in Ontario in 2013, but he was moved to New York at the last minute in the face of the SARP turmoil. He stood two years in Kentucky before moving to Ontario for three years. And while he’s never been mistaken for a Grand Circuit stallion, Dewey has done very well in the Ontario Sire Stakes program. In fact, he bred 134 mares his last year in that province.

His fee has gradually dropped over the years from $20,000 to the current $6,000. Now that some stability has been built into the OSS program it’s hard to see what he gains from the switch. His current crop of freshmen numbers 33 colts and 31 fillies. 

Joe FitzGerald


Sunday, June 19, 2016

Law and Order

As you may have read in today's Harness Racing Update, Joe Faraldo has been handed a lifetime ban from the three Gural tracks for listing himself as trainer on two horses for this Friday's Billings events at the Meadowlands when they are actually trained by a trainer on the exclusion list who is listed as the trainer whenever the horses race in New York.

Needless to say Faraldo is claiming foul, that the exclusion is in revenge for his engineering the defeat of a bill in New York State which would have allowed Gural's horses to race at Tioga and Vernon Downs in overnight events where they currently are prohibited from racing.  More about this in a moment.

It would very well appear this exclusion is retaliatory as these horses were entered twice at the Meadowlands and allowed to race, without question.  Faraldo's exclusion came after he raced his horses this past Friday night.  The race office should have rejected the entries the first time if Faraldo was violating the rules.

Truth is, trainers often change when racing in another state.  I for one know of one trainer who, when sending horses to New York, had the horses race under the owner's name as trainer because of Workers Compensation requirements in the Empire State; the trainer didn't have the required coverage.  Truth is horses often race under different names at different tracks for a myriad of reasons; sometimes innocently, other times to get around rulings (aka, bearding).

It certainly would appear the ban comes in retribution for Faraldo leading the effort to keep track owners from racing in overnight events at their own track.  However, Faraldo must have known Gural would be gunning for him; hence unless looking to provoke action, Faraldo should have dotted his 'i's and crossed his 't's and not given Gural a reason to ban him.

Of course, Faraldo is not the only one to suffer for the legislation going down to defeat.  Gural has also decided horses stabled at tracks where horsemen opposed the legislative change would not be allowed to qualify at Gural's tracks; they would still be able to race.  For the horsemen in these association groups, their penalty is more of an inconvenience.  Still, a pretty ballsy action from Gural considering how full the entry box has been at his tracks as these horsemen may decide 'if they can't qualify there, they aren't going to race there'.

Quite honestly, as much as it may be an inconvenience it may be to get Gural's horses to race in overnight events, the legislature was right to defeat the legislation which would have allowed him to race his horses locally.  I would never suggest any chicanery on the part of Jeff Gural, but allowing a track operator to race at his own tracks in overnight events would not be a good idea; the perception given when the track operator wins would be he was allowed to win because he owns the track.  Just think what handicappers would be saying the first time a track operator's horse was involved in an inquiry and allowed to stay up.

Wouldn't it be wonderful if Faraldo and Gural would work together instead of having their occasional dust ups?  We can hope, someday.

Friday, June 17, 2016

North America Cup Night Stakes (and Hi-5) Picks

Tomorrow night is the biggest night in harness racing in Canada with the Pepsi North America Cup, the marquee event for Mohawk Racetrack.  In addition to the North America Cup, other stakes races and a $100,000 Invitational are on the docket.  For those who love big carryovers, Mohawk provides a 12-horse finale with a mandatory $484K carryover.

Not one to steer away from handicapping big races, here are my elections for the stakes races and the Super High-5 wager.  Hopefully, these selections will be of use to you....

3rd Trot - $267,000 Armbro Fllight
7 - Shake It Cerry - D. Miller - 4-1
4 - Hannelore Hanover - Gingras - 6-5
2 - Rockin With Dewey - Baillargeon - 12-1
3 - Rules of The Road - Callahan - 6-1

5th Trot - $268,000 Goodtimes
5 -Dayson - Gingras - 2-1
4 - Dia Monde - Waples - 4-1
3 - Will Take Charge - Macdonell - 5-1
1 - Blenheim - Christoforou - 10-1

9th Pace - $438,000 Fan Hanover
3 - Good Will Hanover - Christoforou - 7-2
7 - Pure Country - B. Miller - 5-2
4 - Newborn Sassy - Tetrick - 6-1
6 - L A Delight - Waples - 4-1

10th Pace - $100,000 Mohawk Gold Cup Invitational
4 - Always B Miki - D. Miller - 4-5
9 - Mcwicked - Tetrick - 6-1
3 - Rockin In Heaven - B. Miller - 10-1
1 - Bettors Edge - Gingras - 12-1

11th Pace - $370,000 Roses Are Red
4 - Anndrovette - Tetrick - 7-2
5 - Sandbetweenurtoes - Jamieson - 5-
3 - Lady Shadow - Gingras - 9-2
1 - Waasmula - Henry - 12-1

12th Pace - $1,000,000 Pepsi North America Cup XXXIII
3 - Betting Line - D. Miller - 5-2
6 - Racing Hill - B. Miller - 8-1
2 - Lyons Snyder - Filion - 4-1
7 - Beast Mode - Henry - 20-1

And lastly, the selections for the final race of the night which features a $484,912.44 carryover for the Jackpot Hi-5 which features a mandatory payout:

15th Pace - $24,000 NW $8,100 Last 5 Starts
  8 - Shadow Place - Waples - 5-1
  4 - Mckinney - Hudon - 8-1
12 - ASAP Hanover - Jamieson - 7-2
11 - St Lads Lotto - J. Macdonald - 4-1
  6 - Carracci Hanover - McNair - 9-2

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Time for an Overhaul

Dean Hoffman in an excellent column in Harness Racing Update discusses how harness racing needs to change; in particular with the number of horses and distance of races, something I have been discussing for a long time.

As much as I love harness racing, it has become somewhat monotonous, mile in mile out; ten horses across (assuming full fields).  When innovation is attempted, horsemen buck.  Just this year the Meadowlands raced some 1 1/16 races which were successful wagering-wise when they were asked to eliminate them because drivers felt uncomfortable driving in those races.  Not that the races were dangerous because they aren't; it was the lack of familiarity which made drivers uncomfortable.  We all know nothing like repetition to make drivers feel more comfortable in these events.

Two-tiers?  You may as well consider yourself a heretic if you make such a suggestion.  Yes, the second tier may be a tough nut to crack but this can be addressed by lengthening races and paying out more than the top five positions and why not?  Owning a race horse is an expensive proposition.  One would not suggest every horse earn enough money to cover their expenses each week but would it be a crime if a dent was made in those expenses if owners agree to a second tier?

RUS?  "You'll never have serious money bet on it", some will say.  The only thing we do know is it can't have serious money wagered on it if we don't try.  People wager on it in Europe; are they so different in Europe where they will wager on something we will reject?  I suspect not.  Is it possible RUS will not be popular?  Sure, just as possible it may be popular.  The only way we will know is by trying.

When the Meadowlands first opened, people thought the New York harness players would never accept racing over the mile track day in day out.  We know now once exposed to the style of mile racing experienced in the swamp, the punters adopted and made the track successful.

Be it distance, second tier, or RUS it will be foreign initially but punters are, if anything, able to adapt  Whatever change(s) may be made, there will be a learning curve to become comfortable with the changes.  Even those drivers who are uncomfortable with distance and second tier racing will adapt.  It's funny how humans are able to do it.

The time has come for the sport to give the public what they want, a puzzle which pays larger dividends to those who are successful, not a parade of odds-on favorites.  With horsemen in many states recipients of slot revenue, what better time is there to make changes?

Monday, June 13, 2016

Good for the Sport (Keep Telling Yourself That)

Let's start with the good news.  Wiggle It Jiggleit looked fantastic in yesterday's third leg of the Graduate Series at Tioga Downs, scoring a 1:48.1 victory over the fast track.  Shooting out from the 4 hole, WIJI encountered a little resistance at the start before taking command prior to the quarter pole in a :25.4 first quarter.  Once he reached the half in :54.2, it became a jog around the track.  Here is the race replay (plus more).

Truth is against 4 year olds, the most exciting part of WIJI racing are his winners circle antics (if you don't know what I mean, advance the replay to the 5:40 mark).  They would do better to have the photographer take the photo as he jogs past instead.  Of course, if you have a horse like Wiggle It Jiggleit, you put up with his antics willingly.

On the trotting side, Maestro Blue Chip shot out from post position 8 to secure his victory over Pinkman and others in the Graduate, in a 1;53.4 wire to wire victory.  Maestro moved boldly from the beginning to get the lead in a :27.4 after meeting token resistance from Pinkman once the gate opened.  Pinkman was probably tired after his return from Solvalla; expect better from him soon.

But back to WIJI.  On Facebook, I saw a comment about WIJI's performance and it can be summed up as "Good for the Sport".  What does "Good for the Sport" mean?  How does it help the sport?

If you mean people like me who follow the sport because we love it?  Sure, we will be there when WIJI shows up to our local track and watching on our tablets when he races elsewhere.  It will probably get those who live and breathe standardbreds day in day out excited as well.  If you are talking about additional print in the trade journals (online and paper), sure it is good for the sport.

Otherwise, it means squat.  John Q Public for the most part doesn't read the trades.  Attract new fans?  We need gamblers, not fans who will be $10 a race.  Gamblers are more concerned about the other 10 races on the card than the one with a superstar.

Even if we are able to attract new gamblers with a horse who is good for the sport, there is a good chance the low payoffs will discourage them or the high rake will chew and spit them out.  We certainly aren't going to attract them with a race every twenty minutes and they are going to love it when they see post time means squat.    

The point is until we fix the product, any horse who is "Good for the Sport" is a horse who was born at the wrong time.  Before 1978, this horse would have been a blessing to the sport.  Now he is a reminder of a missed opportunity.  Hopefully the day comes when a WIJI-type horse will be good for racing.

Exchange Update - On the exchange yesterday, I noticed place and show wagering available.  The only problem is there is virtually zero liquidity.  Then again, if the public is unaware of these markets, it will be kind of hard to develop liquidity.

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Good News from a Calling; Referendum Reality

Let's start today with some good news.  Standardbred owner Ken Wood depends on his horses' winnings to keep his dream alive and it was profiled in Tuesday's USA Today.  Well, to call it a dream may be incorrect, it is more like his calling.  Either way, Lifetime Wells for Ghana has saved an untold number of lives over the past ten years, first drilling wells for clean water in Ghana and later moving on to Tanzania.  If you are unfamiliar with Wood's efforts, check out the story or visit Lifetime Wells For Ghana's website.  While 90% of his groups funding comes from his race horses, feel free to make a donation if you are so moved, the 10% of funding from alternative sources still does a lot to help the charity do so much more.

Other good news is North America's youth ambassador, Sydney Weaver, is heading to Ireland with her parents for Vincent Delaney Memorial weekend.  Some may be envious of Sydney but is there any other youth with such enthusiasm for the sport?  Kudos to the Vincent Delaney Memorial committee and SSG Gloves for sponsoring the trip and here is looking to read a recap of the weekend from Sydney.  

This should not be a surprise to anyone in favor of or opposed to casino gambling coming to North Jersey.  As reported in Blood Horse, New York is making plans to respond to a possible approval of the Jersey referendum, either by converting the Yonkers and Aqueduct racinos to full fledged casinos or even toss their own self-imposed seven year moratorium on New York City casinos.  Part of the New York planning is an attempt to choke off funding for any New Jersey projects, which should be noted was attempted when the Meadowlands Sports Complex was first built by Sonny Wreblin; the other part is to make sure New York minimizes any windfall New Jersey casinos may hope to get.

Let's face it, anyone who thinks casinos in North Jersey will be operating in an vacuum are delusional.  Realistically, the best in the long term North Jersey casinos can do is recapture the money wagered by New Jersey residents elsewhere.  New York will strike out to make sure any revenue to be derived by New York gamblers will remain in state.  As for gambling tourists?  It will be split between the two states.  Like with racinos, it is all about slicing up the same pie in different portions otherwise known as cannibalization.  I am not saying a New Jersey referendum shouldn't be supported, but with horse people, there should be realistic expectations with regards to purse hikes.  With New York planning to get their 'fair' share, it is important to watch over-extravagant plans for casinos so the debt service will be manageable otherwise it will 'Atlantic City on the Hudson'.

Sunday's Graduate Series pacing leg at Tioga Downs features an eleven-horse field featuring Wiggle It Jiggleit.  A good wagering race except New York requires two entries, a two-horse and three-horse entry, leaving the race with eight betting interests.  As a former firm believer of coupling everything, this is counterproductive to racing overall and it will become more evident as foal crops continue to decline.  As a gambling industry, racing needs volume in handle.  With declining foal crops, keeping horses coupled will cause racing to strangle its own handle.

There has been a rash of barn fires this year (and in prior years) and Equine Guelph has started a trial program to stop barn fires.  They are inviting a few Canadian farm owners to schedule tours of their facilities to see what can be done to prevent future fires.  It would serve those qualified to participate to do so.  For those unable to participate or in the United States, here is a checklist of things which should be done to minimize loss of property and lives (equine and human).  

While Michigan shows some resistance to ADW wagering, Minnesota has moved ahead and authorized ADW wagering in state where money will be recaptured from the ADWs and be used to increase purses both at Canterbury Downs and Running Aces, the harness track with additional revenue dedicated to Breeders Awards.  As for Michigan, revised versions of SB504 and SB505 have been affirmed by the Senate by a vote of 36-1 and now goes to the Governor for his signature.  

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Press Release: Cal Expo and Watch and Wager Extend Lease to 2022

Being the state of harness racing, it is always great to highlight the bright spots in the sport.  One such spot is California.  Yes, that California, a state where harness racing has had periods of crisis where its epitaph could have been written over the past three decades or so; yet it continues.  

The racing may not be top flight, but it amazingly has one of the highest combined handles for their product in the industry, no doubt to its placement, being in the pacific time zone.  Well, the sport is getting an additional dose of stability thanks to a lease which has been extended until May, 2022; an additional six years which in this sport is a lifetime.

Sacramento, Calif. - The California Exposition and State Fair (Cal Expo) and current harness racing operator Watch and Wager LLC have reached an agreement to keep Cal Expo as the home of California Harness racing until May of 2022.

The Cal Expo Board of Directors voted unanimously to extend the lease agreement at Friday’s Fair Board meeting in Sacramento.

“As the home facility for five professional level sporting operations, Cal Expo is particularly pleased with Watch and Wager LLC operation of harness racing,” said Rick Pickering, CEO of California Exposition and State Fair.

“This contract extension is just one example of our mutual commitment to the sport of horse racing.”

Watch and Wager LLC took over operation of Cal Expo harness racing in November of 2012 and recently completed their fourth year of operation with a winter/spring meeting that ended on May 8 and featured a pair of 10 percent purse increases.

“I want to thank the Cal Expo Board for their confidence and support,” said Ed Comins, President of Watch and Wager LLC. “We are fully committed to Cal Expo and the California Standardbred Racing Industry.”

Jim Perez, Executive Director of the California Harness Horseman’s Association expressed his organization’s support “This extension will provide further industry stability and allow our horseman and breeders to make long term plans.” 

Harness racing is set to return to Cal Expo on Saturday, October 22.

Now, if they could get enough new racing stock to get higher purses and a third night of racing weekly, things would really be great for the California horsemen.  One step at a time.

Some Help for Michigan Racing

Michigan, a state which has been cruel to horse racing for a number of years, has passed legislation to help horse racing.  These bills, SB504 and SB505, are scheduled for one final vote by the Senate before going to the Governor's desk for signature.

In particular do these bills help harness raicng?  Yes, they do all though not as much as they could have..  Whereas in the past, distribution of simulcast revenue has been a complicated formula, SB504 provides for simulcast revenue to remain with the track where the wager was made regardless of breed.  Hence, a wager made at Northville Downs on a race at Belmont will be credited to the purse account of Northville, the standardbred track.  Conversely, a wager made at Hazel Park on a Freehold race would credit the purse account of Hazel Park which now races thoroughbreds.  Hence, it would be in the interest of each track to offer as many signals regardless of breed.

In addition, SB504 dictates the roughly $1 million sitting in a purse account for harness horsemen at Hazel Park to be transferred to Northville Downs for the benefit of the horsemen there.  This will be a shot in the arm for harness horsemen and more importantly ensure the money will be used for harness horsemen as in the past Hazel Park has reportedly looked to see if they could appropriate the money for thoroughbred purses.

While regulatory authority remains under the control of the Michigan Gaming Control Board's racing commissioner, SB504 authorizes the establishment of a new seven member Horse Racing Advisory Commission which will be charged in making recommendations to the racing commissioner for the promulgation of rules and recommend legislative changes to the legislature; all to promote the longevity of horse racing in the state.

Bettors lose out on SB505 which criminalizes any ADW operating in the state of Michigan unless they conduct a parimutuel meet in state.  With this change to the criminal code, the ADWs will cease to do business in the Wolverine State, leaving punters without an option to wager on races from home.  This change was requested by the two Michigan tracks in an effort to recapture wagering lost to out of state operators.  An attempt via amendment to authorize ADW wagering through the two tracks was withdrawn in order to get SB504 approved.  Separate legislation to seek the approval of ADW wagering may be attempted in the future.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Reshuffling the Gaming Deck

This month, the Pennsylvania legislature is looking at the possibility of expanding gaming in the Commonwealth.  Because of this, horsemen are getting nervous.

As they should be.   Among the proposals, is a proposal to legalize fantasy sports wagering and online gaming.  There are various suggestions for placing VLTs outside of casinos, from putting slots in airports and off-track wagering locations to putting them in volunteer fire halls, social clubs, and bars.   All proposals will to some extent cannibalize the racetrack casinos.

Horsemen are worried this cannibalization is going to take people out of the racetracks.  Not that horsemen are fearing people will no longer wager on the horses; that ship has already sailed.  They worry about people not gambling at casinos which benefits horsemen purses.  Gambling at your local VFW is not going to contribute to horse racing.

The problem is racing is not the only one dependent on slots to survive in the Keystone State.  Legislators look at gambling as a voluntary tax, one people are all so willing to pay and as such provide a means to fill the state coffers for programs such as education, police/fire, and charity care which  they are unable to fund properly.  What better way to get funds for state programs but off the backs of those waiting for their plane to take off or from a veteran having a few beers with his buddies down at the VFW?  Obviously, legislators are not looking to re-slice the gaming pie, they are looking to grow the pie by making access to gaming much easier.

Whether horsemen are able to defeat the proposals remains to be seen.  Problem is even if successful this time, if the state throws enough darts at the gambling pie, sooner or later something is going to stick.

Monday, June 6, 2016

The Onus is on the Horsemen

If you are like most people, you probably are unable to see the races from Kawartha Downs.  On Saturday, there was a RUS event there and it turned into a small, but excellent race.  Considering it was the first race of the season, I myself was surprised as to the competitiveness of it; it usually gets this good later in the year.

Anyway, with a late defection, the field was reduced to five.  Enough talking; let's take a look at the replay.

The handle for the race was $3,092 which was 10% of the overall handle for the 10 race card ($30,692).  Looking at the handles for the individual pools (it had the largest win handle of the day), it is clear this race would have had a larger handle but the exotic handles were suppressed due to the five horse field.

RUS is being accepted in Ontario.  It is only the shortage of horses which keeps it from being an even more successful program as more horses allows for more races.

As for the lower 48, there is no doubt RUS will be successful if given a fair chance.  It is just a question of exposure and familiarity.  As in Canada, there is a shortage of horses (more riders wouldn't hurt), but the shortage is due to a lack of wagering being offered on the races which would allow for greater frequency and higher purses.  Unless horsemen work to legalize RUS in their states, it will never happen.

Should RUS falter in the United States, the horsemen will be responsible for not supporting his type of standardbred racing.  It will also be an indicator of which way the sport will be heading.

Friday, June 3, 2016

Feature Race of the Day: Kawartha Downs

Well, in this case 'feature race' means a particular race I find of interest.

Long time readers of this blog know I am a big fan of racing under saddle so when it is opening day of the 2016 RUS season in Ontario, a RUS race has to be 'my' feature race.  The particular race is Saturday's 6th race at Kawartha Downs.  The purse is $4,000 with six trotters facing the starting gate.

What makes the race interesting is many in the race are making their RUS debut with the exception of qualifiers.  Does a speedy mile with a sulky minimize a moderate under saddle qualifier?  Does the class in a traditional race foretell how classy a horse will be under saddle or is it a whole new game?

In an attempt to make the race competitive, the race secretary has made the race a handicap.  Has the racing secretary been successful?  Time will tell.  In the meanwhile, here is my analysis of the race:

Sat 6-4 Kawartha Downs  6th Trot - $4,000; RUS Handicap
1  See R Chin Win (Olson, 8-1) - Been away and returns an under saddle race.  Broke in last qualifier.  This WEG competitor won last time at Kawartha.  Your guess.
2  Gracies Harmony (Enberg, 6-1) - Wired field in Q.  Efforts in 9K were so-so.  May find RUS more to his liking.  Competes for show here.
3  Schrodinger (Town, 9-2) - Won both RUS Q's; last in good time.  Suspect he will be a good one.
4  Southwind Alice (Harms, 7-2) - Has been racing good and sports a 2:02.2 qualifier.  Must use in trifectas.
5  Santo Domingo (Valstad, 2-1) - Timed in :55.3 in last.  Owns a 2:05.2 qualifier.  Gut says pass.
6  Massive Muscles (Walker, 8-5) - Owns a 2:00.1 qua record.  Likely 3-5.  Not at those odds.
Selections: 3-6-4

Youth Movement and Lack of ADW Choice

Tonight at the Meadowlands there is a handicapping contest being offered on the Meadowlands race card for those 18 to 30.  There is no entry fee yet handicappers will be competing for a total of $5,000 in purse money.  Participants will be viewing the races from the top of the facility and offered a free buffet.  If you fit the bill, you may register up to 7:00pm tonight.

This is a nice way to get younger people interested in wagering on the races.  A nice night out, a free buffet and the possibility of winning some money is a good way to introduce a younger demographic to racing, hopefully getting them to return to the track to play the horses.  Will it work?  Time will tell but if you don't try, you have no hope of success.

If you live in New Jersey and were hoping to wager on Hippodrome 3R's All-Star Driving Championship on Sunday, you are out of luck as 4NJBets is not offering the signal.  It shouldn't be surprising being the operators of Monmouth Park are in charge of the relationship with TVG.  Were there to be a jockey challenge at Bush Downs, rest assured they would have made sure TVG offered it to NJ punters; a harness racing driving challenge?  No.   So with TVG not offering Hippodrome 3R's signal, it is time to switch ADW providers, right?  Nope, it is illegal in NJ to have an account with another ADW.  The law needs to be changed to allow competition so punters may select the ADW which caters to their individual taste and needs.

The Maine Harness Racing Commission has penalized seven trainers for positives for cobalt, handing down hefty suspensions and fines subject to appeal, according to WCSH in Maine.  Of course, being a smaller market, this story was put on the air allowing the citizens of Maine to be aware of the penalties.  Does anyone wonder why attendance and handle is down when the sport gets publicity like this?