For photos from the Meadowlands contact

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Southwind Frank Preps, Racing Hill Wows

In a Reynolds stake last night (7/30) at the Meadowlands, Hambletonian-bound Southwind Frank scored a convincing victory in 1:52.1 over a sloppy oval, starting from post position eleven.  Frank was parked the first half mile before being able to go into cruise control the rest of the way.  No doubt he is ready for the Hambletonian

Tomorrow, we learn how many horses drop into the Hambletonian. Fourteen horses dropping in the box will result in elimination heats prior to the final while thirteen or fewer horses head directly to the final.  My guess is after Southwind Frank's performance Saturday night, there won't be any need for same-day eliminations.

As impressive as Southwind Frank was, one has to have their eyes wide-open after seeing Racing Hill's 1:48.4 off-track victory in the Adios.  Tony Alagna's Racing Hill had to defeat five horses from the Burke stable and he went through blistering fractions being parked in :25.1, :52.1 before getting the lead and followed it up by getting a breather in the third quarter to reach that marker in 1:20.3 before winning in hand.

Understandably, after this race, Racing Hill will be skipping the Cane Pace at the Meadowlands for a little freshening.  Believe me, after this mile, he deserves a break.

Savor this week's Hambletonian Day card for if some reason the expanded gaming referendum in New Jersey fails, next year's Hambletonian Day will be a mere shadow of this year's card.  Oh, and for those who feel strongly one way or the other about second tier and lengthier races, note as many as six of the races on the Hambletonian Day card could end up being contested at 9 furlongs.

Monday (August 1) is Industry Day at Grand River Raceway and as part of the day, there is an $11,000 RUS Handicap on the card, programmed as Race 3. With many ADWs covering Grand River Raceway, let's take a look at the field for the one mile dash.

Monday, Grand River Raceway
3rd Trot - $11,000; RUS Handicap
1  Callie Magoo (Habke, 12-1) - Gets rider change after disappointing finish.  Don't see this one winning.
2  Gracies Harmony (Enberg, 10-1) - Scratched two weeks straight; concern about fitness  Appears 'ouchy', pass.
3  Ospry Vision (Brand, 7-1) - Finished 3rd in RUS qualifier.  Seems to always land a share.
4  Southwind Alice (Harms, 7-2) - Three race win streak came to an end last start.  Looks to start over.
5  Fashion Goddess (Kennedy, 2-1) - Won last in 1:55 in sulky.  Broke in RUS qualifier here.  Your call.  I'll pass.
6  Muscle Matters (Town, 8-5) - Won last RUS in 2:01.1, then won in Grand River qualifier for a rider.  The one to beat.
Selections: 6-4-3

Saturday, July 30, 2016

Catching Up

I'm back!   A lot has been going on over the past two weeks while I have been busy working on a different aspect of harness racing so the blog slowed down quite a bit.  In a way it is unfair, but when you have an opportunity to work on something you love, other things take a back seat.

That said, I am going to try to balance my efforts so I can dedicate time to both this blog as well as the other project.  Not only will it allow me to keep this blog active, it will add some balance (and sanity) to my life.

First of all, my sympathy to the families of Joe Marsh Jr. and George Berkner.    Two more names of people I felt a connection to in the sport are gone.  Maybe it is nostalgia, but no one in the current crop of personalities can match the panache of those who have recently departed.  Alas, the sands of time continue to pass.

Boy, it didn't take long did it?  Two years into subsidies for horse racing and there are cries to end the subsidizing of horse racing in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.   The Patriot Leader calls subsidizing horse racing investing into a moribund industry; an industry it claims was already dead before the casinos came into the state.  While the editorial was correct in mentioning the industry was on death's door before the first casino came into the Commonwealth, it doesn't consider the fact most wagering occurs off-track, from states where casinos have captured many a horseplayer.

As much as I love Meadowlands racing, I am further convinced the East Rutherford facility needs to rethink its schedule big time  Instead of racing two days a week for a good part of the year, wouldn't they do better if they raced four days a week in the months of January-March and then return for a 'Championship' meeting July-August?

Adios Pick - While most people will be looking for Racing Hill to win the Race for the Orchids, my pick is Manhattan Beach.  If you are looking for an off the radar type of selection since many of the Adios winners are ones that are basically off the radar, Fernando Hanover is a possibility despite the 8 hole.  In the Adioo Volo, the filly companion stake, Newborn Sassy gets my top nod.

How bad is NJ breeding?  Only five horses go in the SBOA Classic, just making it to the wagering card.  As bad as it is, the fillies are even in worse shape as a quartet of 3yo filly pacers make it to the filly companion stake for state-bred which will be contested prior to the evenings regular program.

Speaking of the Meadowlands, the Reynolds for 3yo trotters is being contested in one division with Hambletonian favorite Southwind Frank appearing to be the one who has an easy night of it despite being saddled with a second tier starting position.  If you are looking for a bomb special for the day, you amy want to look at Desert Runner as he picks up the services of John Campbell.  If they hae him straightened out, he may make a show of it.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Whips in the Bullseye

Reports from NSW Australia suggest whips in harness racing may be on the way out; this coming from the head of Harness Racing NSW, John Dumesny.  No doubt these comments come as a result of the state banning greyhound racing starting in 2017.

Dumesny is probably right about whips eventually being banned from the standardbred sport.  When a survey shows 54% of the public approved of the elimination of greyhound racing, it is clear the public lacks patience for sports which seemingly involve cruelty to animals.  As the leader of harness racing in the province, Dumesny sees the three forms of racing in NSW as having 'social' licenses; needing to respond to the social norms or risk their licenses.  NSW may be first but it will be only a matter of time before such a ban spreads to other Australian states.

Perhaps Judy Fasher, of Equestrian Australia says it best, “Any sport that ignores a problem which exists, has a responsibility to clean up that problem or be cleaned up".

So how does this apply to racing in the United States?  The scandal which ensnared greyhound racing in Australia thankfully doesn't exist in the States but just the same, the sport is in its death throes, the lack of alternative gaming, decoupling, or outright state bans has the number of tracks on a steady decline.  Regardless of the specific reason why, the sport is dying because of the real and perceived humane issues involved in the sport.  These same pressures are beginning to be felt in horse racing, with the issue of doping in the forefront, thankfully focused primarily on the thoroughbreds.  

As time goes on, horse racing will be more in the cross hairs of those who feel the sport is cruel and the easiest thing to get targeted are whips. For a sport becoming ever more dependent on slot subsidies, it will be up to the sport to clean itself up before the problem gets taken care of by others for the end result may be more draconian.   

Good News in New York.  Remember those great stakes races at Tioga Downs this year where there were eight horses in  the race but due to coupled entries, you would be down to five or fewer betting interests?  Well, in bringing parity between the standardbreds and thoroughbreds, the NYSGC has approved a rule change which allows for the uncoupling of horses in stakes races.  As a result, when we see eight good horses in a feature race, we should be seeing eight wagering interests.  This is the way it ought to be.  It's about time.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Trainer Updates Mid-July

This trainer update compares stats from July 16, 2015 and those from the same date this year. Due to space considerations, many are not included.

As of July 16 Ron Burke, 46, was number one on the trainer’s money list, just like he always is. He has 16 fewer wins than he did on January, 16 2015, but his earnings are up almost $470,000 over last year. His UTRS is roughly the same as it was at that time. Southwind Frank and Hannelore Hanover are his premier performers. Needless to say, Miki, Wiggle and Pete are narrowing the opportunities for his aged pacers. Burke is the top trainer at The Meadowlands and The Meadows; he’s second at Pocono Downs, fifth at Yonkers, and he leads the NYSS.

Jimmy Takter, 55, is number three on the money list. He finished in second the last several years and will be second again this year.

Richard Moreau, the top trainer at Mohawk, was number five as of Sunday July 16, up from number 8 a year ago this time. His earnings are up $252,000 over last year. He has double the wins and money of any other trainer at Mohawk. Fifty-0ne-year-old Moreau finished 2015 at number 13, after being 13 or 14 every year since 2012. Evenin Of Pleasure and Collective Wisdom are a couple of his winners.

Richard Banca, 41, who was not in the top 50 from 2012 to 2014, is at number six: he was third in May and finished 2015 at number 20. The runner up in the standings at Yonkers, he had made 245 more starts through July 16 than he had made last year, resulting in 28 more wins and almost $609,000 more in earnings. His UTRS actually dropped from 0.356 last July to 0.317. Banca makes 80% of his starts at Yonkers.

Ake Svanstedt finished at number 17 during his first season in North America, thanks to the $660,000 Sebastian K banked. Last year he dropped to number 30. Right now he’s at nine with only a handful more wins but $618,000 more in earnings. Cutler winner Resolve’s $260,000 helped out there. Also, Svanstedt is third on the NYSS earnings list.

Linda Toscano was number 4 in 2012 and number 7 the following year. Back when Market Share, Chapter Seven and Heston Blue Chip roamed the earth. She finished at 11 in 2014 and ended 2015 at 15. Right now she’s up to nine, six spots better than last July. She has earned $233,000 more than one year ago. Toscano is number two in the NYSS, her success propelled by freshmen like Robin J, Worlds Apart and Planet Rock.

As was the case with Toscano, Captaintreacherous  gave 44-year-old Tony Alagna a big boost on the money list: he was number 5 in 2012 and number 3 the following year. But like Toscano, Tony has soldiered on without the cash cow. He finished 2014 at 7 and was fourth last year. Right now he occupies the 11 spot, three better than mid-July of last year. His bankroll is up by almost $203,000 on 93 fewer starts. Pace runner up Racing Hill and OSS star Caprice Hill are two of his best.

Thomas Milici, who was not on the top 50 until this year, is number 12, after being at nine in May. The 60-year-old phenom is the number three trainer at Yonkers, where he makes 80% of his starts. His horses win at a heady 34.6% rate. Last year his charges won 27 races and earned $304,000; as of July 16, half-way through the year, they had 109 wins and more than $1.1 million.

Thirty-nine-year-old Dylan Davis is another freshly minted uber- trainer who has made great strides in a relatively short period of time. He wasn’t on the top 50 in 2012 and 2013, and was at number 48 in 2014. And while he didn’t finish 2015 on that list, he was at 32 last July. This year he’s up to number 15, with 139 more starts, 26 more wins and $403,000 more in earnings. His UTRS was 0.353 a year ago and it’s risen to 0.363. Mel Mara and NJSS star Every Way Out are two of his winners.

Virgil Morgan Jr, 50, who is the leading trainer at Scioto Downs, was at number 6 last July, but he’s at 19 this year. He has 71 fewer wins and has banked $626,000 less than he had one year ago. His UTRS has dropped from 0.362 to .322. Morgan finished 2015 at 10, and the Scioto schedule favors a second half run. He was tenth and ninth the previous two years. Josh Sutton drives regularly for Morgan.

Matias Ruiz, 58, has been training for a quarter century, but he had never cracked $530,000 until this year. The California transplant went from off the top 50 list last year to number 22 right now. Through July 16 he has 53 wins and $872,000 in earnings. He’s sixth from the top at Pocono Downs and number 19 at Yonkers.

Buckeye Chris Beaver, 44, wasn’t on the top 50 this time last year, but he finished the year at number 35 with 67 wins and $1.5 million.  Right now he’s at 24. As of July 16 he had 54 wins and earnings of $826,000. And he sports an out of this world 0.442 UTRS. He returned from Canada to focus on Ohio with its enhanced sire stakes program. Il Sogno Dream and Muscle Up The Goal are two of his winners. Aaron Merriman often drives for him.

Joe FitzGerald


Thursday, July 21, 2016

These odd-distance M'lands races totally leave me cold

by Peter Lawrence, VFTRG Contributor


I've attended every Hambletonian from 1980 to the present (except '81); that's a given. Yes, even one in DuQuoin.

But there was a stretch of a few years that I missed a few Meadowlands Paces and watched them either from home or at a simulcast location.

Then came 2008 and Somebeachsomewhere, and I made it a point to attend live. I would've felt like a dolt if he, or another horse, won and I'd missed some seeing some crazy wild mile time.

Good call.

The 1:47 victory by Art Official over SBSW, and especially the way the race went, made that edition of the Pace an instant classic people still talk about.

More recently, the Franklin FFA at Pocono Downs about three weeks ago was on the docket, with Wiggle It Jiggleit, Freaky Feet Pete and Always B. Miki all together and threatening to pace in the 1:46 neighborhood.

I was dead-tired from a day that was already long that evening. It would've been easy to watch it from home, I was already planning to be in Goshen the next day, and I was looking for a good excuse to not drive all the way to the Pennsylvania mountains.

But I would've felt like a dolt if one of those three great pacers, or some other, had won and I'd missed seeing some crazy wild mile time.

Always B. Miki won it on the initial meeting of the Big Three, but no 1:46 and change or better, "only" a 1:47 flat. Still, quite an event on quite a card, I had a good time and I'm happy I made the trip.

Round two of the gathering of the same Big Three this past Saturday in the William R. Haughton FFA, but zero chance of a crazy wild mile time.


The race, traditionally a one-mile affair, was stretched out to a mile and an eighth.

I had no idea, still don't, still don't care, what a good time even IS for a mile and an eighth.
Always B. Miki won again, recording a 2:01-1/5 final time off a 1:48-1/5 mile split.
Is that a good or bad final clocking?

As far as I'm concerned, we missed a fantastic chance on Saturday to see history, a 1:46-3/5, a 1:46-1/5 mile - or even a 1:45 and change - yet I was considerably less excited about this race than I was about the one at Pocono.

Will the Big Three convene again in the upcoming U.S. Pacing Championship, the Canadian Pacing Derby, the Allerage or somewhere else?

Springfield, DuQuoin and Syracuse are no longer options. (Well, technically, two of them are, but there's no way.)

Will all three titans still be in peak form, will the weather cooperate, will the fractions be conducive to 1:46 or faster if and when they compete together again?

I dunno ...

My European friends, and some, maybe many, here in the U.S., may agree or disagree with me on the odd-distance vs. mile question.

But count me as one voice against the mile and an eighth.

Notes: The primary argument for the goofy distance is, I think, that track management wanted 12 horses competing in various races (a valid aim, if it increases handle, I guess; though if I was betting, I wouldn't want a bigger field and more horses to beat). But haven't M'lands stakes been raced with 12 or so horses, at a mile, plenty of times before? I seem to recall the 1980 Oliver Wendell Holmes result being something like 12-10-11, Niatross, Storm Damage and Royce. I also think the M'lands Pace was raced, at a mile, of course, with 12 horses, every year for a while.

Charts and program past performances aren't set up for harness races at longer than a mile. Look at the charts on the Meadowlands and USTA websites. No mile times listed, and no last quarter times figured.

Here's a thought; didn't Roosevelt Raceway "start" races several steps before the official start and before the clock started? Maybe M'lands could do the same with larger fields. I think I've seen thoroughbred races start steps before the clock began running, too. Maybe that's what "about" means in some t-bred listed race distances.

In any case, added-distance harness racing leaves me cold.


Wednesday, July 20, 2016

The Nemesis In Harness Racing

The nemesis has always played a prominent role in harness racing, the horse that doesn’t qualify as a full-fledged rival to a star performer, but serves as an ever present irritant.

Perhaps the most famous such relationship involved Bret Hanover and his paternal brother Adios Vic. Bret lost only six of his 68 races, and four of those losses (five heats) were to the smaller, more compact Vic. Despite his heft, Bret could dance around a half, while the less agile but very fast Vic struggled on the turns and functioned best on a big track.

 Bret Hanover won all 24 freshman starts and suffered his initial defeat in the first heat of the Review Futurity in Springfield, Ill, after winning 35 races without a loss. Bret won by winning the second heat in a faster time but Vic and his pilot, Jim Dennis, had ended the streak. Bret subsequently suffered another pair of losses to Vic two weeks later at Indianapolis, when the big guy dropped a heat and the race-off of the Horseman Futurity.

Big Bum suffered still another loss to his nemesis in Illinois when Vic beat him in the Washington Park Stake the following year.

And he struck again, for the last time, in the $20,000 Preview Pace at Hollywood Park, Bret’s penultimate start. Frank Ervin made the mistake of backing down the half, leaving his horse at the mercy of Vic’s lethal late kick. True Duane beat Bret Hanover in his final start, the American Pacing Classic, but Jim Denis and his charge set the win up by getting into Ervin’s head and inspiring him to flip tactics and go the fastest competitive mile ever—1:54.3. Unfortunately, the race was at a mile and an eighth.

The great pacer Albatross, a two-time Horse of the Year, the winner of 59 of 71 lifetime starts and the first Standardbred to earn more than $500,000 in a single season, had no rival, but Nansemond was his nemesis. The latter, a rugged son of Tar Heel, beat Super Bird in five heats through the three years they competed. This led to victories in four races: The Little Brown Jug, the Adios Harry at Brandywine, the Suburban Downs Pacing Derby at Hawthorne and an invitational at Liberty Bell. The last three came at age four.

The Jug, where Albatross took the first heat and Nansemond the other two, was a crushing defeat for the son of Meadow Skipper. Trainer-driver Stanley Dancer never got over that one. While the other three came in July, August and October of the champ’s four-year-old campaign.  And these losses were compounded by the three defeats Albatross suffered to Nansemond’s full brother, Isle Of Wight, in March of that year. The six-year-old beat him in the Milestone at Liberty Bell, the Provincial Cup at Windsor Raceway and the Clark Memorial back at Liberty Bell. These losses, in tandem with the compromised health of Stanley Dancer, so shook some members of the syndicate that Dancer came very close to being replaced.

Albatross beat Nansemond in the Star Pointer, Sheppard, Roosevelt Futurity, Messenger, Cane, Battle Of Brandywine, Canadian Pacing Derby, LK Shapiro, NPD, APC and others. So he was clearly better, but his nemesis and that one’s driver Herve Filion, did get under his skin.

Dancer also dealt with Songcan, a nemesis to his Triple Crown winner Super Bowl, who was born a year after Albatross. In the spring and early summer of their sophomore campaign, Songcan was considered the best trotter in the division. He crushed Super Bowl and Spartan Hanover as the 1-2 favorite in the Dexter Cup at Roosevelt Raceway in June, but Super Bowl, who won 23 of 28 starts that year, soon exerted his superiority.

When Super Bowl, who required an oversized sulky and was referred to as Big Dummy by his groom, looked to complete the Triple Crown with a win in the Kentucky Futurity, Songcan, and the little pest sitting behind him, George Sholty, gave the big guy flat tires in both heats. The son of Stars Pride was steered to victory, regardless, by Stanley Dancer.

Sholty, who weighed in at 108 pounds in his prime, was a protagonist in another such relationship. Florida Pro, a tall, handsome son of Arnie Almahurst, who wasn’t particularly handy but possessed a big turn of speed, made life miserable for world champion Speedy Somolli.

Florida Pro took three straight from Somolli at two, while in the process of going 9 for 13. He then engineered a spectacular win over Howard Beissinger’s charge in the Beacon Course Trot the following year at The Meadowlands, as the 3-5 favorite.

The pair traded wins in the first two heats of the Hambletonian, before Somolli prevailed by a nose in the final.

Florida Pro then beat the son of Speedy Crown in the Colonial in 1:58.1, which equaled the world record on a 5/8 track, which was held by his buddy Somolli, who also held the mile record.

Both wound up in Sweden, Speedy Somolli after standing 11 years in New Jersey and Florida Pro after putting in nine years at Hanover. The former, the grandsire of Valley Victory, tasted more success in that realm. Florida Pro, the sire of Sugarcane Hanover, on the other hand, was an unsuccessful but very fertile and prolific sire—the worst kind.

Check Me Out, from the first crop of Donato Hanover, was a world champion and division winner at two and three. She’s still the second richest offspring of her sire in North America. She won 25 of 31 starts as a filly, primarily for Tim Tetrick, and earned $1.8 million over those two years. CMO had no significant wins at four.

Her nemesis was Maven, who is pretty much a one off from her sire, the Triple Crown winner Glidemaster. The pair were together from the start; CMO won the first qualifier either appeared in by eight lengths at The Meadowlands in June, 2011. Maven was fourth.

Despite the fact that they were both eligible to the PASS, they only crossed paths one other time at two. Check Me Out won a $55,000 sire stakes split at Chester as the 2/5 favorite in August. While Maven had a good year, CMO kept a much higher profile, winning the Merrie Annabelle, Peaceful Way, BC and Matron.

In mid-May of 2015 Maven, who was driven by Yannick Gingras, beat CMO in that one’s seasonal debut, in a split of the PASS at The Meadows. Trainer Ray Schnittker positioned the filly so far back she couldn’t possibly win. CMO had a 3-2 advantage at three. Both finished out in the Oaks when disaster struck around the last turn. The Donato filly took the Elegantimage, Bluegrass and PA Championship, while Maven won the Breeders Crown. The latter signaled the role shift within the division for the pair and that carried over to the following year when CMO never got untracked while Maven beat her in the Allerage Mare and BC elimination and final.

Check Me Out beat Maven 128 to 12 in the Dan Patch voting at three. Still, one might argue that Maven was more than a nemesis: she retired at age 7 with $1.7 million in the bank and a world record, while CMO retired at four with $1.9 million and having set three world records.

Die Laughing and chauffeur Richie Silverman were a pain in Artsplace’s butt at two and three. They split at two, with the No Nukes colt beating  Art in the elimination and final of the Presidential at Garden State, while the latter won the Governor’s Cup at that same track and the BC in a world record performance at Pompano Park. The quest for division honors came down to that race in which Die Laughing was the 3/5 choice from the six while Art was 3/1 from the three. The decisive win elevated the son of Abercrombie to millionaire status and secured the Dan Patch for him.

The following year Die Laughing beat Artsplace in the Prix d’Ete and the Messenger. He also topped the million-dollar mark, becoming only the second to win a million dollars at both two and three. Precious Bunny trumped both of them, winning the division as well as Horse of the Year honors.

Krispy Apple certainly tormented See You At Peelers. The latter took the division at two and three and kicked her career off with a streak of 22 wins, but the pugnacious daughter of Western Ideal was always buzzing around her. Peelers retired four long years ago but 8-year-old KA is still performing at a high level; she’s banked $70,000 already this year and is now about $89,000 ahead of Peelers in the lifetime earnings column.

Major Look was a thorn in the side of American Jewel at three. The Art Major filly beat the world champion in her seasonal debut at Vernon Downs as the 15/1 underdog to the 1/5 Jewel. And two months later Major Look beat Jewel in the Shalee at The Meadowlands in 1:49.3. This time she was a 10/1 outsider. 

After Mission Brief went into self-destruct mode in the Breeders Crown and Wild Honey took the prize, some, including trainer Jimmy Takter, said Wild Honey should be the division winner. She had taken the measure of the Muscle Hill speed demon in their previous encounter, in the KY Filly Futurity, and she had also won the Oaks while Mission Brief was finishing second in the Hambletonian. If this isn’t being a nemesis, what is? Ron Burke’s charge had already beaten her tormentor in the Zweig, Elegantimage and Moni Maker, and would redeem herself for the miscue in the BC with wins over Honey in the Matron and Continentalvictory. What more did they want? Cooler heads prevailed come election time.

Joe FitzGerald

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Which Drivers Are Trending Up Or Down?

We took a look at some of the drivers that were trending one way or the other several weeks ago, comparing their stats in Mid-May of this year with those of the same date in 2015. Time to revisit that topic and see how things have changed since May and also how various drivers are doing compared with last year. We’re using the date July 6 for 2016 and 2015, so “now” or “currently” refers to that date. There’s no room to mention everyone, so there will be drivers near the top of the earnings list who aren’t included, in many cases because they haven’t engaged in a dramatic performance shift.

Since mid-May 34-year-old Tim Tetrick has moved up one spot to the top of the earnings list. A year ago this time he was at # 3. He was able to leave the gate fast this year, which hasn’t been the case in the recent past when he had to play catch up for one reason or another. As of July 6, he was 90 wins and almost $389,000 ahead of the same date in 2015. His UDRS is 0.329; a year ago it was 0.300. Tetrick is the leading driver at Harrah’s and number two at The Meadowlands. Rockeyed Optimist, Boston Red Rocks, Maestro Blue Chip and Mach It So are a few of his money makers.

Jason Bartlett, the top driver at Yonkers Raceway, was number one a year ago this time, but is number two right now. He doesn’t embrace a nomadic lifestyle like many of the top drivers; 35-year-old Bartlett pretty much stays at Yonkers where he wins more than 24% of the time. The overnight purses are so high at Yonkers that staying put serves him well. His UDRS has risen from 0.348 a year ago to a stellar 0.378.

Yannick Gingras, who turns 37 in a few weeks, has clawed his way from number 7 in mid-May to number 3 today. He’s actually two spots ahead of a year ago, with 15 fewer wins but $24,000 more in earnings. Gingras is number three at Harrah’s and number 8 on the driver’s list at The Meadowlands, winning at a 14% rate. And he’s number 11 at Pocono Downs. Southwind Frank, Hannelore Hanover, Check Six, Rockin Ron, All The Time and JK Will Power are a few of his big guns.

Gingras moved to the top of the list in mid-August of 2015. He’s got the prohibitive Hambletonian favorite and a win in the classic would send him right to the top of this year’s list. But overall, the Burke Barn is softer than usual on the top aged tier, thanks in part to Miki, Pete and Wiggle. All Bets Off and Rockin Ron have been successful but the Big Three are putting a damper on their game of late. Hannelore Hanover doesn’t have that problem. Burke had no starter in the Lynch and the sophomore pacing colts aren’t as good as they seemed to be a month ago. But he and Takter both have lots of promising freshmen, so Yannick will be a tough out again this year.

The 2015 dash champ, 37-year-old Aaron Merriman, is on top of that list by a mile, but he’s banking more dollars this year. He’s fourth now, after being tenth a year ago this time. In May he was third. His UDRS is up from last year. He’s winning more than a quarter of his starts at Northfield and he’s second to Dave Palone at The Meadows, with a very good UDRS of .328 and more than $2 million in earnings at the PA track.

Matt Kakaley, who was fourth on the money list in May, is now fifth. He was in twelfth place a year ago. The 28-year-old is second to George Nap at Pocono and number 8 at Yonkers. He gets around. His UDRS has risen from 0.208 a year ago to 0.252 today. I Said Diamonds and All Bets Off are two of his better regular drives. Matt finished 2015 at number 13. The fact that the Burke barn was off 108 wins and $3.4 million from 2014 had a lot to do with that. He was eighth the two previous years.

Twenty-seven-year-old Scott Zeron has carved out a spot on the top tier. He obviously made the right career move when he relocated to the States in November, 2013. A paragon of consistency, he was at number 13 one year ago and is currently at number 12. He finished up 2015 number 12 and was 13 in May. His UDRS is up a bit from last year. Scott is the leading driver at The Meadowlands and number 9 at Yonkers Raceway.

Presumptive Hall of Famer Brian Sears, 48, is at number 7, down from fourth in May, when all that Yonkers money still dominated the stats board. His UDRS is up but he’s short $826,000 from a year ago this month. Bee A Magician being on the shelf since the end of May has much to do with that. Perhaps Control The Moment will fill that space for him. Sears is another consistent performer: he finished up in sixth last year, in fifth in 2014, and in third and sixth the two previous years. He has three stakes drives at The Meadowlands, five drives at Harrah’s and none at The Meadows. Obviously Sears doesn’t get around the circuit as much as he used to.

After a slow start Brett Miller, 42, has jumped from number 23 in May to number 9. He was eleventh this time last year. He’s fifth at Harrah’s, seventh at The Meadowlands and ninth at Pocono Downs. Star pacers Pure Country and Racing Hill are two of Miller’s best, in addition to a slew of good young ones in the Takter Barn.

Hall of Famer David Miller, the 2015 Driver of the Year, took the winter and early spring off, but he’s made up for lost time. He’s risen from number 21 in May to number 6. One year ago he was at number 9. His win total is down by 24 since then, but his earnings are up by $42,000. Taking a page from the Jim Morrill Jr playbook hasn’t hurt him at all. And his UDRS is up to 0.303 from 0.267 a year ago. Miller occupies the four slot at Harrah’s and number ten at The Meadowlands. He won the NA Cup with Betting Line and is also driving Always B Miki, Darlinonthebeach, Katie’s Rocker and Broadway Donna. He’s finished the year in the top five on the money list the past four years.

Jordan Stratton, 29, the number 5 driver at Yonkers, has gone from number 32 a year ago to number 13. He’s banked $900,000 more at this point in 2016 than he had a year ago, thanks in no small measure to his success with Bit Of A Legend N, Texican N and others in the Levy series. He was at number 9 back in May when that money was fresh.

Chris Page, the number three driver at Scioto Downs, where he drives for top trainers like Ron Burke and Brian Brown, has gone from number 25 last July to number 16. He’s also been driving for those trainers in the energized Ohio Sire Stakes races at Northfield. The 32-year-old Buckeye has 56 more wins and $443,000 more in earnings than he had one year ago. His UDRS has risen from 0.232 to 0.267.

It’s been a tough slog for the ubiquitous Corey Callahan, who got a late start. Last July he was number two on the money list, and he was number 8 in May. He’s currently at number 10, 134 wins and $1.3 million short of his totals one year ago. He has 249 fewer starts than he did at this point in July, 2015. Corey, who is number 4 at The Meadowlands, winning at a 12% clip, has seen his UDRS drop from 0.333 to 0.272. Still, he is behind a select group of nine drivers and ahead of a zillion others. It’s telling that his fastest drive Mel Mara would be a star most years, but he has to battle ABM, Wiggle and Pete in 2016. He’s number four at The Meadowlands. Corey finished at number five last year and was sixth the two previous years. Chances are he’ll be right there by December.

Like Scott Zeron, Mark MacDonald, 37, who moved South four and a half years ago, is reaping the rewards. He went from number 22 a year ago to number 17, with 22 more wins and $286,000 more in earnings. He’s number six at Yonkers and is ahead of all the WEG based drivers on the money list. Mac’s UDRS is up to 0.228 from 0.186 a year ago. He finished up 2015 at number 24; That number is sure to rise in 2016 with the help of the lucrative NYSS program.

Jody Jamieson, 39, has moved up 11 spots from where he was a year ago this time; he’s gone from 38 to 27. He has 38 more wins and his earnings are up by $270,000. And his UDRS has increased from 0.244 to 0.284. His drive, win and money totals have fallen the last four years as he slid from number 7 in 2012, to number 11, to number 16, to number 31 last year.

Joe Bongiorno, who wasn’t on the top 50 earnings list a year ago or at the close of 2015, is now number 12. As of July 6 he had 238 wins, earnings of $1.6 million and a UDRS of 0.292. Ron Burke has been keeping him busy. He’s number three at The Meadowlands, number five at Northfield and number 13 at Harrah’s.

Joe FitzGerald


Wednesday, July 13, 2016

VFTRG Remembers

You have to read the latest blog entry from Pull The Pocket.  When did this all start?  It started with the opening of the Meadowlands back in 1976.  That brought the Wall Street types into the game and the face of racing started to change, going from a sport, though profit was important, to a business where Wall Street types came into the sport along with their metrics.  It brought the age of the specialists into the sport, those who were trainers and those who were catch drivers.  John Campbell, Bill O'Donnell, William Haughton were trainer-drivers when they came upon the Meadowlands; some quit training upon their arrival; others like William Haughton took longer to give up driving or gave way as part of attrition (Haughton continued driving at other tracks until his death).

Remember when stakes events were competitive, not primarily controlled by a few stables?  When no one knew what rent a horse was?  Trainer/drivers worried about having a horse next week and not about using a horse as much as possible, knowing there was another horse in the stable to replaceit when  the horse was burnt out?  What about trainers who refuse to bother with claimers because they won't do what other trainers do?   Granted, these are generalizations, there are those who play the game right and have the horse being priority number one.

Think I am wrong?  Why do you think membership in the USTA has declined along with foal counts?  Something has chased people out of owning horses.  Sure many of these people had grown old and left the sport, but if things were so wonderful, don't you think their children, exposed to horse ownership would have picked up the parents' mantle and became owners?  Odds are they were scared away.

Look, there were problems in the good ol' days.  I am not trying to portray this as a "pure" sport descending into ill-repute, but no doubt abut it, the old timers wouldn't recognize the sport as it is now and if they did, they probably wouldn't want anything to do with it anymore.  One thing for sure, this is not the sport I remember taking part of with my father.

Live in New York?  Did you know New York has had the most extensive schedule of racing under saddle over the past three year?  If you have some time this summer, why not visit your local county fair and watch not only RUS but racing at the grassroots level, where harness racing is still fun.

Speaking of RUS a full field of eight are slated to face the starter Sunday night at Ocean Downs when the horses will go under saddle for a purse of $5,000.  Great job by Friends of Maryland Standardbreds in organizing the event.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

NJ Casino Referendum Loses Ground

Living in New Jersey, I have been surprised by the fact I have not seen any materials or advertisements regarding the referendum on expanding gaming to North Jersey, with its assumption of a casino at the Meadowlands which would help fund purses for horse racing.  Being most campaigns begin in earnest after Labor Day, I imagine this shouldn't have surprised me.

Unfortunately, while the campaign may not kick off in earnest until Labor Day, movement in public opinion regarding gaming in North Jersey does not wait for Labor Day and it has changed, for the worse.  What seem to have been a 50-50 proposition has now become a 35%-57% deficit.  The referendum is not a lost cause but it does have its obstacles.

First of all, the remaining Atlantic City casinos have mobilized businesses in South Jersey to form the No North Jersey Casinos Coalition, a coalition which also includes elected officials and others.  This group is expected to put a lot of money into this campaign to defeat the referendum.  Does the pro-casino forces have the finances and will to meet their opponents in what is expected to be an expensive campaign?

While no one is saying it, Governor Christie appears to have done it to racing once again.  The Governor, who promised to be a cheerleader for this referendum, is likely to be missing in action through the election day.  Whether he becomes Donald Trump's Vice-Presidential nominee or not, it appears the Governor has forsaken New Jersey for the bright lights of a national campaign.  Hence, the use of the Gubernatorial bully-pulpit to marshal support for the referendum is gone.  

South Jersey sees North Jersey casinos as a net loss for South Jersey as more casinos are likely to close as some gaming revenue will be lost to the North.  One has to wonder if people in North Jersey see the benefit of gaming in North Jersey to be short-lived as it won't be long until New York 'retaliates' either by allowing Yonkers and Aqueduct to convert to regular casinos or allows casinos to come to New York City.  It is up to the pro-casino group to address these concerns and convince voters the benefits outweigh the risks.

All is not lost, but those who want to see gaming in North Jersey need to redouble their efforts.  The one thing they can't afford is to allow the gap in the polls to grow any further.  New Jersey Voters need to see this will be a win-win for the state and not just future white elephants.

What's Not Fair?

Well, the fields have been drawn for the Meadowlands Pace card and if you look at the card, you might almost confuse it for a thoroughbred card with five of the thirteen races going an extra furlong with eleven or twelve horses slated to meet the starter.

Of course, we are hearing the usual, "With owners paying to get into the race, they should have their horse's nose on the gate", to which I answer 'Poppycock' (to keep it PG)..  Did the owners and trainers read the conditions of the races?   Here is the relevant condition for the William Haughton Memorial, the other races  have the same or similar language. (The underlining I have added)

Racing Conditions: The twelve (12) highest 2015-16 money winners (USTA records) that declare will race at the distance of a mile and one eighth. If ten or fewer declare the race will be at one mile. If a consolation can be filled with sufficient wagering interests, that may be raced for 25% of the total purse pool before entry fees are added and the main event will race for 75% of the total purse pool before entry fees are added. Entry fee for the consolation will be $1,000. Any horse that is declared for this race but does not draw in either event due to the above condition (including a horse drawn as also eligible that does not draw into the race) and meets the track’s qualifying standards for the race will have their nomination and sustaining fees refunded in full and shall NOT be liable for the entry fee.
Money Division: One-percent of the purse will be awarded to each horse finishing sixth through last. The balance of the purse shall be distributed 50% - 25% - 12% - 8% - 5%

Nothing hidden, no surprise.  It was there, right in the beginning; not something written at the end of the racing condition buried.  The twelve horses and added distance is clear as black and white.  When owners made their first payment they knew what they were paying into; the possibility of being in the second tier and having to go an extra eighth of a mile.

Look, I understand an owner being disappointed with drawing post eleven or twelve; just like they do when drawing post position nine or ten.  Being mad or angry about drawing into the second tier and/or the added distance?  Sorry, you don't have a leg to stand on.

Some will argue the added distance hurts the horse.  Really?  Now the standardbred is not as sturdy as they once were, but they are not petite flowers either; an extra furlong is not going to hurt the horse if it happens once in a blue moon (more likely once).  Besides, the extra distance is there to give the horse(s) who drew into tier two a little more time to get into the race, a better chance to win.

Would horsemen prefer the conditions be limited to the top ten money winners?  Not if you are number eleven or  twelve on the list.   Why not split the race if more than ten horses entered?  Great for the horsemen, bad for the punters and for a track which depends on handle to generate a profit or loss.  Tracks historically put the most unattractive races, betting-wise on the front end of the racing program so it is no surprise both divisions of the Delvin Miller Memorial and the one division of the Mistletoe Shalee are at the front end of the card; to be raced before the crowd settles in.

Don't like the possibility of racing two tiers?  Don't make payments to the race.

Of course, if the casino gaming referendum doesn't pass in New Jersey, you won't have to worry about the second tier next year because most, if not all of these races will have seen their last running and the most recent Fairliegh Dickinson University/Public Mind poll shows the referendum would go down to defeat as only 35% of the respondents are in favor with 57% opposed.

Thursday, July 7, 2016

The Good and the Bad

Congratulations to Brian Sears for being nominated for induction into the Harness Racing Living Hall of Fame.

Of course, it is a little lonely this year on the ballot as he is the sole nominee.  No, you are not going to hear my 'Zeke Parker should be in the Hall of Fame Speech', but why weren't any trainers on the ballot this year such as one person suggested, Jerry Silverman or Steve Elliot?

I don't suggest there should be a slew of candidates each year, after all the Hall of Fame is supposed to be something special. But to see these trainers on the outside looking in seems to be a mistake.  Hopefully, it will be corrected while these trainers are around to accept the acknowledgement from the industry.

On the sad side, word has reached us that Ben Stafford Jr. has passed away at the age of 45.  I remember seeing him race at Garden State Park and on the NJSS Fair Circuit when it existed.  Then he moved on the the Delaware Circuit with excursions to the Maryland and Pennsylvania tracks.  Our sympathy to his family on his passing.  He will be missed by those who knew him.

In other news, it is Amateurs on Display Day at Monticello on a rare Friday afternoon card as three Amateur clubs are hosting races at the Catskill Mountain oval on the eleven race card.  The Catskill Driving, and North American Amateur Driving Association, and CKG Billings group each have two races carded,

Speaking of Amateurs, am I the only one who would love to see Hannah Miller compete against the 'pros'?  The talented driver has a UDR in the 300's and it seems most press releases regarding amateur competition mentions another victory for her.  I'm not suggesting she goes pro, but it would be interesting to see her race against a driving colony at a given racetrack.

Saratoga Casino Hotel issued a press release regarding the opening of their hotel.  I can't help to notice they mention Saratoga Race Course before they mentioned their own harness track in paragraph nine.  When they finally get around to mentioning the harness track, they did dedicate a good amount of space about it.  I just wish they would have promoted their own racetrack before mentioning the thoroughbred track.

Sunday, July 3, 2016

Franklin and 'That Other Race' Recap

The Ben Franklin FFA Pace at Pocono Downs lived up to the hype and when the dust settled it was Always B Miki being the conqueror, taking the lion's share in a world-record tying 1:47 last night, defeating Freaky Feet Pete who finished second with Wiggle It Jiggleit finishing third.

The race may be seen its entirety in the video below.  You may jump to the race by going directly to 6:46.

It was a monster mile with Always B Miki racing the :25.4 first quarter an uncovered fourth before brushing for the lead, taking the field the rest of the way in :53.3, 1:19.2, and 1:47.  Freaky Feet Pete took the field to the quarter pole before following Miki along the rail the rest of the mile, then trying to get to the winner in the stretch.  As for Wiggle It Jiggleit, it was a solid effort, being parked the middle half before finishing two lengths back; a better trip may have landed him second.  Always B Miki was dominant, even with the better trip I don't see WIJI defeating the Ben Franklin winner; he was that good.

Meanwhile, over at Northfield Park, the FFA trotters did battle in the Cleveland Classic which was won by Obrigado in an easy track-record mile timed in 1:53.2.  Shake it Cerry took the field to the first quarter in :27.2 with Obrigado a neck behind after brushing up from third..  Just after the first station, Obrigado took over the lead and it was all over with the trotter taking the field the rest of the way to a :56 half and 1:25 three-quarters before winning the race by more than five lengths.

Muscle Up The Goal took second after sitting along the wood most of the mile while Shake It Cerry ended up third.  Homicide Hunter paid the price for being hung out to dry and his retreat to the back of the field hampered Il Sogno Dream who got stuck behind the retreating horse.

Saturday, July 2, 2016

Sun Stakes Preview

What kind of blog would I be if I ignored the Sun Stakes tonight at Mohegan Sun Pocono Downs?  To me, they look like single-digit odds winners all the way through though I admit, I'm a little shaky with regards to the Beal. Memorial.  While I pick Southwind Frank, if there is going to be a stakes race upset tonight, it may very well be this race here.  My longshot play is Truemass Volo.

As for the Ben Franklin being the 'Race of the Centrury', I would hold off on that label until we see how the race goes.  Yes this is probably the toughest field I have seen in a long time and while you can make an argument for quite a few of these FFAllers, an upset while less likely is not out of the realm of possibilities.  If I had to pick upset possibilities, I would look at Mel Mara, who is making his second start back off a short vacation and also State Treasurer, who while winless this year tends to find ways to surprise and has the service of Tim Tetrick.

9th Pace - $300,000; Jams M Lynch Memorial - 3yoF
6 - Darlinonthebeach - D.Miller 3-1
7 - Pure Country - B.Miller 5-2
8 - Blue Moon Stride - Mccarthy - 6-1
9 - Penpal - Lachance 15-1

10th Pace - $500,000; Max C Hempt Memorial - 3yo Open
2 - Racing Hill - B.Miller 5-2
8 - Control The Moment - Waples 7-2
6 - Boston Red Sox - Tetrick 5-1
7 - Katies Rocker - D.Miller 4-1

11th Pace - $500,000; Ben Franklin - FFA
7 - Always B Miki - D.Miller 4-1
6 - Freaky Feet Pete - Tr.Tetrick 3-1
3 - Wiggle It Jiggleit - Teague 5-2
1 - Mel Mara - Callahan 6-1

12th Trot - $500,000; Earl Beal Jr. Memorial - 3yo Open
7 - Southwind Frank - Gingras 5-2
9 - Bar Hopping - Ti.Tetrick 4-1
3 - Truemass Volo - Goodell 12-1
4 - Dayson Morrill 3-1
Longshot Play - #3 Truemass Volo

Friday, July 1, 2016

Whose Money is it Anyway?

Don't you love it when tracks hijack the horseplayers money in carryovers and uses it for another purpose?  Churchill Downs has recently been criticized for doing so and the latest track to decide to do it is the Meadowlands.

You may be asking, "What?  When has the Meadowlands ever done that?".  Well they are doing it on Meadowlands Pace night by having a"'mandatory payout" Jackpot Super High-Five with the carryover from the last race Super High-Five worth $267,769, following the latest appropriation by WEG on their mandatory payout on North America Cup night.

By now, you are probably wondering, "What the heck is he talking about?".  The rules of the Jackpot Super High-Five is the jackpot (i.e, carryover) is only paid out when there is only one winning ticket with the correct order of the top five finishers.  What they are doing on Meadowlands Pace night is transferring the carryover from this wager and in effect seeding the pool of another wager, a regular pentafecta, one where multiple winning tickets share in the pool, with money horseplayers have been contributing to by playing the last-race exotic.  Is there anything in the rules for the wager which says the track can do this?

Now I realize in the grand scheme of things, there are bigger fish to fry when it comes to harness racing issues.  I would concur, but......

How would you feel if you have been religiously playing the Jackpot Super High-Five all-meet long and you have had a few times had the winning combination, alas, with other players?  Sure you would have won money, but the carryover was not to be yours.  It would be one thing if it was the end of the meet and they had to payout the carryover; that's in the rules and you know (or should) it.  But to have others win the pot you have been aiming for a good part of the meet and have it paid out to multiple players, maybe punters who only have the first four horses picked out?  To make things worse, people who haven't played the wager at all (not contributed to the carryover) are going to swoop in and try to grab the pot you have contributed to.  All of a sudden you are not feeling so good are you?

Making matters worse, this appropriation is being done with the full knowledge and approval of the NJRC.  Well, so much for showing how much they hold punters in high esteem.

If tracks are going to continue doing these "mandatory payout" events, I would suggest the rules be changed where there is a "mandatory payout" anytime the carryover reaches $250,000; this way you may have more than one mandatory payout night each meet and at least people who are playing your jackpot wagers know ahead of time what will happen if the wager isn't hit after a period of time.

John Campbell wins 3 at Monticello Raceway

Editor's Note:  This is a press release from Monticello Raceway.  Even though this is a press release I posted by mistake, I am leaving it up as one person already responded to it.

by Shawn Wiles, Monticello Raceway

On Thursday June 30, Monticello Raceway showcased a hefty card of 14 races, featuring New York Sire Stake action for 2 Year Old Trotting Colts. On tap are 5 splits of Sire Stakes, ($22,000) 4 heats of the Divisions A’s ($15,000) and 2 races for the Division B ($6,600) and 2 dashes of the NAADA event and 1 Catskill Amateurs event,

Practice is over, now it’s for real, that’s what over 80 freshman trotting colts discovered when they made their Pari mutuel and half mile oval debut.  John Campbell had 3 winner’s races on the afternoon’s card. Owners Ted Gewertz and Wanda Polisseni both enjoyed an owners double on the afternoon.

In the first $22,200 dash, Such An Angel, took advantage and protected the rail, as he led wire to wire to win in 2:01:1, sprinting home in 29.1. The Credit Winner colt is owned in partnership of Samuel Caruso and Wanda Polisseni, trained by Paul Kelly and driven by Sam Caruso.  The $110,000 yearling purchase has 3 wins in as many starts.

Race 4, the undefeated Barn Winner scored in impressive fashion for driver Jeff Gregory, as Lindy The Second showed the field thru even fractions of 30 seconds for each quarter, Gregory was patiently bidding his time, down the backstretch Gregory carefully tipped the Credit Winner colt to the outside at the ¾, at top of the lane the Credit Winner colt angled into contention, he responded well when asked for trot, coming home in a brisk 28:3 over Devious Man and fraction setting Lindy the Second.  Steven Pratt is trainer and co-owner along with Out in the Country Stable, scoring in 2:00.

The 3rd heat was in race 6, Odeon Bluechip (PP3) left fastest from the gate and showed the way out of the first turn Zack’s Zoomer (Deweycheatumnhowe), pulled the 2 hole and quickly took the lead from Odeon Bluechip (Credit Winner) before the quarter, reaching that marker in 30:0, they reached an even rated half in 1:00:2, at the 5/8 marker John Campbell, driving Volare made a bold move and challenged Zacks Zoomer but had to settled for 2nd money as Zacks Zoomer withstood the challenged  The Erv Miller trainee scored by 1 ¼ length over Volare in 1:59:3 for owners Miller & Eisman, and was driven by Andy Miller, it was the fastest mile of the day for the 2 year olds.
Aces and Eights was content to sit the pocket behind fraction setting Neon Lights the entire mile, Daley tipped the son of RC Royalty to the outside as they fanned for home. Neon Lights started to labor for driver Chris Lems and made an ill-timed break in deep stretch, Ace and Eights inherited the lead and won over Shaq To The Rack and Ray Schnittker in 2:00:3 for winning connections of Daley, Crawford, Lombardo and Brooks.

The last of 5 Sire Stakes came in race 12, Money Macintosh won by 2 lengths for Andy - Julie Miller team. The son of Credit Winner eased from the 8 hole and found himself parked 3 deep going into the first turn and down the backstrecth, after dodging a few breakers he eventually made his way to the lead past the ¼ in 30:3, he showed the field through fractions of 1:01:2, 1:31:3 and was never heeded to prevail in 2:00:3. Money Macintosh is owned by Story Inc. of Millstone Township.

The John Campbell classes started in an Excelsior A event as he scored with diminutive and uniquely colored New York Chrome for jubilant owner Philip Hale of New Hartford NY in 2:01.3.

Campbell would go on to win the final 2 races of the afternoon, in the 13, Sheldon (Chapter 7) minded his manners and won in 2:04.4. Winter Mint (Credit Winner) who was a handful scoring down but was on his best behavior once behind the gate, he floated out from post 2 and was sitting 3rd when the horses in front of him made breaks, once given the lead he was never headed to win in 2:02.2

The Sire stats for the day were Credit Winner had 5 winners, Deweychetumnhowe 3, RC Royalty, Chapter Seven & Mutineer all had 1 each.