For photos from the Meadowlands contact

Monday, June 26, 2017

VFTRG Lives!

Coming in the first half of July, I will be transferring ownership of the blog to a new blogger who will continue writing from where I left off.  I can't say who the new blogger will be but they are well informed in the sport of harness racing and I am sure they will bring an interesting perspective to you, the blog reader.

So keep VFTRG bookmarked.  It will be well worth the wait.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

There Comes a Time to Say 'Adjö'

Perhaps it is fitting this decision comes on the day the Great Herve Fillion has passed away, though I certainly would never claim any type of equivalency.  It's just funny how some things come together

There comes a time when one must face reality; after 3,308 posts (including this one) and over 992,000 views, it is time to say goodbye to VFTRG.  Long-time readers shouldn’t be surprised by this news as the almost daily posting of articles has dropped off to a point where it could be a week or two between postings.  I have been debating this moment for a while when today, the decision was made to say ‘enough’; the chronic pain (and varied illnesses) have worn me down to the point where a work of love has become a chore.  When it is no longer fun, it is time to stop. 
Since my initial blog entry on May 18, 2009, I’ve tried to stand up for the person often ignored when it comes to harness racing, the racing fan.  I covered races, specific horses, handicapped races (sorry about that), and perhaps most importantly, discussed issues facing the industry as well as how it impacted the racing fan.

I’ve discussed many issues during this eight year run, no doubt multiple times.  Quite honestly, when you are dealing with an industry which at times seemingly digs its heels into the ground, refusing to change, you can’t help but re-visit some of the common themes of one’s blog.  I understand people and industries don’t want to change but if there is any long-term hope for harness racing, the young Turks are going to have to push those who refuse to change out of the way and make the tough choices.  After all, the slot revenue isn't going to be there forever.

There has been a lot of good stuff written over this eight years, so while I am no longer going to post to VFTRG, feel free to read some of the old articles; just type a theme in the search box and see what treasures you come up with to read.

I am thankful for the friends I’ve made over the years and hope to stay in touch with them.  While VFTRG is coming to an end, this is not good bye.  I will still be involved with horse rescue and help continue to promote racing under saddle when possible.  Should the opportunity arise, I may come up with an occasional article for other publications to publish.

Thank you for being a part of my life during the past eight years.  Hopefully, there is a lot of great racing ahead and the industry makes some changes to make the game more challenging to handicap and become more relevant to the millennials and others so they take another look at harness racing and decide it is a ‘cool’ sport and gaming experience. 

I'll see you in the grandstand.....   

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

The Last Meet?

The possibility of Vernon Downs being in the midst of their last season has become more real as the track is slated to close for good on November 11, at the conclusion of the current meet as the New York legislature remains deadlocked over granting Vernon Downs tax relief with regards to slot revenue.  While the Senate has approved relief for the upstate track, the Assembly seems to be bogged down with respect to the bill.  Track majority owner Jeff Gural claims the end of the current legislative session, June 21 is the drop dead date.

Harness racing, while a money loser at Vernon is not the issue here, it's taxation rates for slot revenue as the casino has been losing money since upstate casinos have begun operating, poaching customers from Vernon.  Being restricted to video gaming only doesn't allow the track to compete against the casinos and when you consider the VLTs are taxed at a higher rate than the nearby casinos, the chance to come out in the black is virtually impossible.

Will the Assembly come through within the next week?  Is June 21, the drop dead date or is it more likely to be September 10, the date the casino is slated to close?  All I know is it is a perilous time.

Is the harness racing revival in Massachusetts coming to an end?  Call me paranoid but with legislators in the Bay State reassessing their commitment to slot revenue going to racing, I can't wonder if harness racing is going to get shafted.   The problem comes primarily from slot revenue being earmarked for racing and the pool getting bigger and bigger as the thoroughbred industry has basically left the state.  Suffolk Downs races a few days this year and with it being sold, 2018 may be the last year the track races at all.  Massachusetts bred races have been contested at Finger Lakes (NY).  Try as they may, regulators can't find enough ways to spend the thoroughbred portion of the fund due to the industry virtually dying off.  Meanwhile, the standardbreds keep humming along, doing well.

However, the legislature is wondering if the industry is worth saving at all when they have pressing social issues which could use the influx of funds.  While the legislature can scrap the part of the enabling legislation regarding thoroughbred breeding and racing funding, they can just as easily lump the standardbreds with the runners and decide to gut the whole funding mechanism or cut it to the bone.  Time will tell but people should be getting nervous.  Very nervous.

WEG has announced their intention to move harness racing to Mohawk (or should we say Woodbine at Mohawk Park) starting in 2018 year round, investing $10 million to winterize the facility.  Is this good for the sport or bad?  Some worry about the sport moving out of Toronto to Milton (approximately 31 miles) full time as well as the additional cost in shipping to Mohawk year round.  No doubt this is a problem for some, but being located at a dedicated facility (with a casino) rather than being the stepchild at a track where thoroughbreds are a priority should outweigh the negatives.

Another issue is would the horseplayers get fatigue with racing at one facility twelve months a year?  No more than they get fatigued with racing on the Woodbine-Mohawk circuit already.  If racing was worried about fatigue, it would shut down for the winter months.  Fans may get fatigued but the hard core players have no problem with racing year round

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Answers to Some Questions

Yesterday, I posted a link to Bob Marks, excellent column over at DRF Harness about questions he would like to have answers to.  Well, with his permission, here are my responses to his questions; admittedly some answers are  bit cynical.

Regarding why so few horses qualify at Yonkers even though they want to race there and why they are qualifying at the Meadowlands.  No one wants to go over the half mile oval if they don’t have to.  Besides, who wants to deal with the traffic to get to Yonkers if they don’t have to?  My question is, what happened to the rule if you qualify at the Meadowlands, you need to make your first start there?
Why drivers don't question driving in front of near-empty grandstands. They are too busy counting their money to care.
Regarding why can't all tracks agree '0' minutes to post time is post time and coordinate times accordingly.  You mean you want tracks to coordinate and stick to their guns about post time being post time?  Then again, if we can’t agree to this, why should we expect to work together on other issues?
The secret handle and attendance figures. Handle is meaningless.  As for attendance, how depressed do you want people to get?  But why we are at it, we hear about syndicates getting deals to wager directly into track pools.  How much money are they wagering and what do they pay into the purse account?
Why don’t programs list disclaimers for often irrelevant elimination races and preps?  Or don’t we care that good money is often burned on starters seeking to just qualify for the Final?  The practical thing would be to have races for top money earners and a decent purse for a consolation for the next group of horses, but that would be a change from the way we do it so bettors beware.
Why are feature races at the end of the card when many people have cleared out?  In fairness, this is what the runners do and it works for them.  If this was our only problem.
Shouldn't our optimum races be carded when the most people are at the track?  Well, if we raced at post time, this problem could be solved without trying.
Would it be so hard to synchronize post times so that races, especially feature races, don’t overlap each other?  It would seem that if we were ever to have a harness racing channel that would be mandatory.  Yes, it would be mandatory with a harness racing channel.  BTW, wasn’t that supposed to happen?  What happened to that idea?
Why are so many races carded for “winners over $10,000 lifetime” or perhaps “winners over $25,000 lifetime” when theoretically almost every horse on the grounds would fit that condition.  Because racing secretaries don’t have enough horses to write classes, (heaven forbid they go with classified racing again)
Just how does an extended pari-mutuel race differ from a non-extended one assuming there is such a thing?  This is primarily an Ohio issue.  When you win a race at Upper Sandusky, Ohio in a pari-mutuel race, do you really want to consider this the same as winning a race at Scioto Downs?
How come at one track the preferred class is a step-up from the open class while at another track the reverse may be true. I suspect this is more the case of a racing secretary admitting what kind of racing stock he/she has to work with.
Have you ever heard anyone who just lost money betting on a horse race state, “That was fun, maybe I could lose more money next race?”  Only when not sober.

Are thoroughbred trainers permitted to own pieces of horses in barns other than their own?  I dare say not.

Monday, June 5, 2017

Are Playing Favorites Self Destructive?

From the title of this blog entry, you may be thinking I am talking about handicapping the races.  After all, if you play favorites all the time, odds are you will be losing.  While this may be true, I am talking about race secretaries and the favoritism given to local horses (often the result of contract negotiations).  Take this condition for example:


With this condition, you are basically saying if you are a local horse, you can be a non-winner of $7,200 in the last five starts of $12,000 in 2017; a significant advantage for a trainer.

While I understand the logic, isn't this another case of rewarding the horseman at the expense of the handicapper?  Yes, the horseplayer will be able to see some horses are getting a class advantage over others, but if it results in lower payoffs, it really doesn't benefit the horseplayer.

Of course, this is not a 100% rule.  Take a look at this condition:


Most people would agree Minnesota breeding is not up to par with breeding in surrounding states with slots so giving a local horse the benefit of an additional start may actually make a race more competitive; again depending on the state.  You need to know the stature of the breeding program in the particular state to know whether or not the preference given to horses goes against your interest as the horseplayer.

Over at DRF Harness, Bob Marks asks the questions many of us wonder about.  Take a look and see if you can come up with some of the answers.

You may have missed it:  Thunder Ridge Racetrack's season recently finished.  Don't worry that you missed it, most people did.  Racing moves to Player's Bluegrass Downs.  Their website is out of date (unless you want to know about the 2015 racing season), but at least there is some wagering taking place (in 2014, the lastest statistics available, total wagering at Bluegrass Downs was $19,595 vs. $1,327 at Thunder Ridge; no off-track wagering)  The season starts on June 9.

Saturday, June 3, 2017

Another Florida Discgrace

The famous Hialeah Park for all practical purposes is gone.  A track of grander in its heyday, Hialeah has some of the best thoroughbred racing in the country with horses like Citation running on their track.  Then, in a bit of deregulation genius, the other South Florida thoroughbred tracks killed off the track, seemingly for good.

Then the possibility of slots arose and the track rose from the dead.  Not picking up thoroughbred racing, but going with the quarter horses.  It no doubt lost money, but it was the cost of doing business.

Well, after three years of quarter horses, the track has descended into the joke which only can happen in the State of Florida.  They have gone the Gretna route.  Having eight match races in each card; two quarter horses going against each other from a starting gate without doors; just waiting for someone to shout 'Go' and a quick dash of 110 yards (1/16th of a mile).  Just enough racing to qualify for a casino license.

The reason for revamping their quarter horse program?  To reduce its racing costs.

Do you think?

I know the harness horsemen are trying to fight of decoupling and such games haven't occurred with the trotters (probably because there is only one harness license in the state), but if this is the future of racing in Florida, someone turn the lights off and let it go for this is a disgrace.

In some ways, Florida is an anomaly, it shows you what can happen when you deregulate the racing industry, to allow for the survival of the fittest.  First it was the best kept on going while the weak went away but in recent years, it has been a race to the bottom with racetracks hiring lawyers to find ways to exploit the laws to get their hands on card rooms and/or slot machines.  Clearly, an experiment which went woefully wrong.

But as much as it is an anomaly, should decoupling ever become  law in Florida, it will become a trendsetter for other states where racinos will be working to get rid of racing.  This will be a battle in multiple states where already the question of why are we giving money to racing when it hasn't improved things is heard constantly in Maine, Pennsylvania, and elsewhere.  You will have a confluence of casino operators seeking to shed racing and legislators looking to cut subsidies to racing; a formidable combination indeed.  All it will take is for one leg of the foundation to be kicked out.

Scary times indeed.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Parx Strikes Out for the Bettor, Are Harness Tracks Stepping Up?

Parx Racing has instituted new rules effective June 1 (not retroactive) in an effort to protect the wagering public from drug cheats and hidden ownership.  Any trainer who gets three drug positives (fine or suspension) or two drug suspensions within a 365 day period will find their stall privileges  revoked and  be evicted from the track, presumably unable to enter any horses at the track  In addition, any horse which tests positive will be subject to a 45 day suspension and will not be able to be sold or transferred to anyone else who stables at Parx.  If the horse is sold, it must be removed from the track property.

As for hidden ownership, any trainer who misrepresents the ownership of a horse which is actually owned in full or in part will find their stall assignments revoked as well as be reported  to the racing commission.

Say what you want about suspending a horse from competition but owners hire trainers and they must be found culpable along with the trainer and if this means the horse is put in jail for 45 days so be it (they are free to race elsewhere).

Now granted, with most thoroughbreds stabled at the track. the denial of stalls makes it easier to punish trainers as most standardbred tracks no longer have on-track stabling, but most tracks lack the will to evict trainers.  It should be noted this new policy was formulated with the local horsemen organization; and it will apply only after all appeals have been exhausted (i.e. due process).

With regards to horse ownership, there have been complaints of horses racing under hidden ownership.  Whether the issue is as big as some complain is up for debate but trainers (and owners)  who misrepresent horse ownership are committing a fraud and they should be expelled as well.

My question is which harness tracks are going to step up on behalf of the bettor?

It is good to know the horsemen and track are working together in the name of integrity but they are bound to be disappointed as these steps are being done to increase racing handle which they feel should be higher.  Here is where they are wrong.  If they want to increase handle, they should revisit their takeouts and reduce the 30% rake on trifectas and superfectas in addition to their 26% vig on pick-x wagers.  (For the record, the Meadows takes 25% on trifectas and superfectas; Harrah's Philadelphia 30% trifecta and 32% superfectas; Pocono Downs 25% pick-x and high-fives and 30% on trifectas and superfectas).  The takeout rates for all wagers at Pennsylvania tracks may be found here.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

What Could Have Been; The Old Man Wins the Elitlopp

I was watching the Elitlopp broadcast today and thoughts of "What Could Have Been?" came to mind as I took the Swedish spectacle in.

What could have been if we didn't emphasize two and three year old racing?  Timoko was the victor of the Elitlopp at the tender age of 10 years old.  The average age of the Elitlopp competitors was 6.875 years old with the youngest being 5 and the oldest 12 (Spring Erom).  Recognizable horses bring their own fan clubs with them to race, bring patriotism to the forefront, you would have thought you were watching the World Cup soccer tournament.

How could these horses breed if racing?  Timoko spends part of his time in the breeding shed and it turns out one of his off-spring, Dreammoko, raced on the Elitlopp card in a race for 4 year olds.  No, you wouldn't be able to breed a full North American book but you would be able to breed and race at the same time, continuing to connect with your fans as well as providing horses for yearling sales.

What could have been if we gave the public what they wanted?  The entire day was spent listening to the roughly 35-40,000 in attendance having a great time.  Chanting, clapping, singing all day long.  I realize not every event in Sweden has a crowd as large or boisterous, but the fact you people coming to the races for a good time is important.  Yes, they probably didn't bet much but they give something just as important as betting, relevance.  The sport is relevant in Sweden (and other European countries) so it gets covered; it's not a sport being contested in isolation.

Now I realize the North American model of breeding means horses will stop racing as soon as possible to go to stud if there is a chance of commercial success; this is part of the American mind-set.  This is something we won't change, but we certainly could give the American horse player what they want.  Racing with action, not just the same old same old race.  Races with different distances (I know we won't go with vault starts) and more horses in races for betting purposes (one or two races today had 15 horses going to post).  Lastly, a truly entertaining experience.  These are things we could do but we refuse to do so.

To continue doing the same thing is irrational as it is self-destructive.  The question is when will the industry change to give the customers what they want?  I suspect things have to get a lot worse before it gets better.

As for the Elitlopp, lets review it.

The first heat was won by Bold Eagle as expected, winning in a mile rate of 1:49.8 mile rate.  It was an impressive mile as the Eagle was parked most of the way before he won like the champion he is.

After the elimination, people were ready to hand the trophy to the French trotter.

The second heat was won by Nuncio who led wire to wire but was challenged hard.  He crossed the wire in a mile rate of 1:52.4,  Timoko was in this heat and he managed to finish third.

With Nuncio's victory, the crowd got ready for the assumed battle between Nuncio and Bold Eagle.  Timoko was an after thought.  But then the race is won on the track, not on paper.

In the final, Timoko was the first to leave and he was wiring the field looking sharp but as they headed into the final turn that Bold Eagle and Nuncio would be challenging in the lane as they were stacked up three and four wide but clearly their first heat victories took it out of them.  Timoko, who finished third in his elimination obviously had enough left in the tank for the final and he was victorious in a 1:51 mile rate..

Timoko was the winner with Propulsion picking up place honors with American entry Resolve taking the show spot.  Bold Eagle finished fourth with Nuncio picking up the fifth spot.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

A Case for Dual Breed Meets

I recently viewed the commercial being shown in Ontario movie theaters for harness racing and my first thought was why don't we have a similar commercial to be shown in American theaters?  Then I realized such an endeavor would be a waste of money.

Sure from the backstretch view, harness racing is an exciting business and if presented properly, it would be an exciting gaming sport.  But let's not kid ourselves.  Run down facilities, expensive concessions, excessive time between races does not make an entertaining experience.  Of course, if we can fix these short comings, it would be a different story.

Leaving run down facilities and expensive concessions for another day, let's look at cutting down the time between races.  To fix the time between races issue, it probably would require a heretical step, a dual breed race card.  Whether partnering with quarter horse or thoroughbred interests. alternating races where one breed races while the other preps for their race thus keeping the time between races to a minimum.  There could be cross-breed and same-breed exotics satisfying those looking for a night out as well as single breed aficionados.  In addition to cutting down the time between races for gamblers, it may also be a solution for the horse shortage as you would only need no more than six races of any one breed on a given race day.

Over at US Racing, Ray Cotolo provides his list of seven standardbreds to watch in 2017.  Not only is it informative, but with Cotolo's wit makes his column an entertaining read.

Kratom!  Sounds like the latest Marvel Super Hero getting a television show but if you thought this, you'd be wrong.  It is a drug which Michael Weiner has been cited by the NYSGC for allegedly giving four of his horses racing at Monticello.  The board has suspended Weiner pending a hearing before the board where he faces the possibility of a license revocation and $25,000 fine.

It wouldn't be a Molson Pace race card without Foiled Again racing and this year is no different, except he is racing on the under card in a local Invitational Handicap.  It will be interesting to see if he can defeat a field of B-track horses.

There is a great weekend on tap of racing starting with Western Fair District's Molson Pace on Friday followed by the Lismore and Art Rooney at Yonkers Raceway on Saturday.  On Sunday, attention turns to Harrah's Philadelphia for a trio of Invitationals, the Betsy Ross  (FM Pace), Maxie Lee Memorial (Open Trot), and Ben Stafford Jr Memorial (Open Pace).   If you live near any of this tracks, it may be worth a visit to your track..

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Tone Deaf about Whipping

Long time readers of this blog know my position on whipping; it is a problem which threatens the sustainability of this sport.  Whether banning or reducing the amount of whipping and enforcing the rules, something must happen before the animal rights people go on the attack.

I understand there are readers who disagree with me and others on this position.  The difference of opinions can be debated and hopefully an industry-wide compromise can be worked out but regardless of how you feel about whipping, most people realize it is a sensitive issue.  Highlighting heavy whipping is just plain stupid.

But then there are those who must be tone deaf or are merely going through the motions when it comes to promoting the sport.  Below is a video from 2012 which up to now is reachable from the 'Live Racing' page of Northville Downs' website ('Exclusive You Tube Videos').

We'll disregard who the driver in the video is, but to keep this video up (regardless of how old it is) doesn't serve the industry well.  It suggests an attitude of 'Who cares?

A webcam video of a driver in a race is a good idea.  One showing this type of whipping is a bad idea.  May I suggest losing this video and replacing it with one or a driver who is not as heavy-handed using the whip?


Sunday, May 14, 2017

Christen Me N Causes Heart Attacks; Wins North American PM Debut

Hearts were stopping in the simulcast world when Christen Me N was bet down to 3-5 only to jump off briefly before the start in his North American debut at Harrah's Philadelphia Sunday afternoon.  While he got back on stride quickly, it appeared he was rough gaited when a recall was called.  When he returned to the paddock, a quick equipment change was made.

Meanwhile, once the hearts started again, bettors had to make a decision as to whether or not to hold on to their wagers or cancel them to pass on the race or switch allegiances.  What to do?

Well, a good number decided to cancel their tickets, which for those who decided to hold pat was good as Christen Me N rose from 3-5 to 2-1.  His supporters were rewarded, though it was not the romp some may have been expecting.

When the starting gate opened, Christen Me was brought into the race conservatively, being off the gate when it opened.  By the time the field hit the quarter in :26.2, Tim Tetrick was able to get the 9 year old gelding into fifth along the wood after which Tetrick decided to move out half way through the second panel to get into fourth by the time they hit the second :55,4

It was the overland route indeed as the New Zealand was waiting for cover to develop which didn't happen until the field past the third station in 1:22.2.  Following Poisonous, Christen Me waited till the top of the stretch (a length behind the leader Always at My Place) to go four wide to come home the fastest of all to win by a head in a 1:51 mile with Poisonous winning a tight photo to finish second while Scott Rocks took show honors.

He is indeed a good one but it helped he was racing in non-winners of $21,000 in the last 5 starts class and not in top company, for I believe he would have gone down to defeat.  Of course,after that rough beginning, Tim Tetrick raced him conservatively.  /Once the Jo Ann Looney-King and Jim King are able to diagnose the cause of the rough start and Tetrick is able to race Christen Me all out, it will be interesting to see how good he really will be here in North America.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Nickel Claimers

The Meadowlands has gone where it has never gone before with the standardbreds.  On Friday evening, there is a F&M conditioned tilt for non-winners of $2,000 in last five starts going for a purse of $5,000 and to top that (or is it bottom that?), Saturday has a race for $5,000 claimers going for a purse of $4,500.

It is obvious the Meadowlands is having a problem to attract horses to fill the card, but it is more a case of the horse shortage taking its toll.  One has to look at Vernon Downs and see they cancelled Friday's race card when only 55 horses entered the box, 25 horses short of what they typically need.  Vernon took those races and split them between Saturday and Sunday to fill out those two cards.

With the Meadowlands racing only two days a week, going to one day a week is not really an option.  Fortunately, with Freehold closing last week, the Meadowlands was able to card these races and draw some Freehold shippers up North.

Yes, it is a question of free competition and the lack of slots is hurting the Meadowlands greatly  The shame is if the race meets were coordinated, there would be no need to drop down to nickel claimers.  Unfortunately, the days of coordinating race meets seems to be a thing of the pass.

But while there will be those taking delight in the Meadowlands hard times, it is important to remember, with the exception of Mohawk, no harness track in North America will out-handle the Meadowlands.   We know which product the public prefers.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Adams Takes Lead in Hambletonian Grand Circuit Handicapping Challenge

(May 9, 2017) –   With three legs and eight races contested in the Grand Circuit Handicapping Challenge this past week, the possibility of the standings being shuffled existed and it turned out to be the case.  Once the dust settled Russ Adams moved up two places to claim the lead with a total of 329.31 points versus Rusty Nash’s 315.  Last week’s leader Matt Rose fell back to third with a total of 278.96 points. 

The key to this past week was Saturday’s (May 6) races at Freehold Raceway and the Meadowlands.  Favorites ruled the day and Adams and Terry Wilson jumped on the bandwagon, both tabbing five out of six winners.  While each had five winners, Adams’ selections paid $1.50 more than Wilson’s which allowed him to claim the lead. 

With the overwhelming majority of handicappers selecting Hannelore Hanover in the Miami Valley Distaff Trot on Sunday (May 7), none of the handicappers selected the winner Charmed Life.  The best the handicappers could do is pick up the crumbs with Hannelore’s second-place finish which meant having to settle for a net loss of $1.70  

Monday (May 8) afternoon was the opposite of Sunday’s outcome as Lady Shadow ($3.40) didn’t disappoint in the Chip Noble Memorial Pace.  While seven handicappers had the winner, it was Rusty Nash, the lone handicapper who selected second place Divas Image whose ($16.40, $7.80) dividends easily topped the favorite’s payoffs allowing him to finish in front for the day

Standings as of Monday, May 8, 2017 - Leg #15
Total Points Earned
Legs Won
Overall Net Profit
Russ Adams
Rusty Nash
Matt Rose
Gordon Waterstone
Bryan Owen
Michael Carter
Ray Garnett
Megan Maccario
Steve Horoky
Dennis O’Hara
Jay Hochstetler
Terry Wilson
Adam Friedland
Sally Hinckley
Anne Stepien
Ray Cotolo

Next Up:  Monday was the lone race for the week so with no contest races this weekend, the focus is on May 20 when the Graduate series kicks off at the Meadowlands.  The following week features the Ms. Versatility (Mohawk, May 22); Molson Pace (Western Fair District, May 26); Lismore and Art Rooney (Yonkers, May 27); Betsy Ross and Maxie Lee Memorial (Harrah’s Philadelphia, May 28).

The 2017 Hambletonian Society Grand Circuit Handicapping Challenge is sponsored by Adam Friedland, DRF Harness, Green Acquisition Corporation, The Hambletonian Society, Hoosier Park Racing and Casino, Meadowlands Racing and Entertainment, Northfield Park, Ontario Harness Horse Association, Red Shores Charlottetown/Summerside, Tioga Downs, Vernon Downs, Wellbourne Farms, and WEG Entertainment.  The contest is administered by HANA Harness, the harness racing division of HANA, the Horseplayers Association of North America.  Fans may follow the challenge by visiting the contest site at http;//  

Sunday, May 7, 2017

An Example as to why the Sport has to Change

Yesterday, the HANA Harness-operated Hambletonian Society Grand Circuit Handicapping Challenge had six contest races; three at Freehold and three at the Meadowlands.  Two of the handicappers selected five out of six winners, meaning they earned a fictional $2 win, place, and show payoff on each of their selected horses.  One of the handicappers finished off the board in the race they didn't hit, the other collected the show payoff.

So five out of six races?  Not bad, if these fictional wagers were real, the handicapper must have done pretty good.  So how did they do?

Handicapper A - +$10,90
Handicapper B - +   9.40 

My first thoughts when seeing how they did is, "You got to be kidding", win five races and lose one and you barely make a $10 profit.  Why bother?  Now granted, one day out of the entire contest schedule does not make a trend and a good handicapper would pick and choose their spots; betting more on certain races and bypassing others but these six stakes races are a prime example as to why new horseplayers gravitate to the runners.  Racing is too consistent and when you can typically eliminate the outside posts on a half mile oval, the prices reflect this consistency.  But form holds on well on the mile oval as well and it is illustrated in last night's Meadowlands card when seven of the eleven races were won by odds-on favorites.

Something has to change in the harness racing game to make it less predictable and get bigger payoffs if the sport wants to compete.  

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Who Said This?

Who said the following comments?  They all were said by the same individual.

“I have seen a lot of sport over my career but I’ve never seen a sports industry that is so fragmented”.
“They have to work together. There is not a lot of ‘team’ going on here. It’s all about individuals and individual concerns. But you don’t save an industry by saving your own skin".
“We challenge the industry to work more collaboratively than ever before because, if the same destructive behaviors we have heard about throughout this review persist, then this puts the industry at grave risk at a time when it may be at its weakest.”

You could probably think of several people who may have said this, but truth is while these comments could describe the American (and arguably the Canadian) harness racing industry, these comments were not made by an American, these are the words of Brian Cunningham, the leading administrator for Harness Racing SA (South Australia) in describing the situation facing the industry in his part of the world.
It goes to show you different areas have similar problems.  Whether America, Australia, New Zealand, Italy, .... well, you get the idea.  All areas which have problems with harness racing.  It also makes sense the solutions are probably similar if not the same.  So what are the proposed solutions? 
Cunningham  came up with some recommendations such as having all the tracks fall in line and follow the direction of the governing body (with HRSA having more power than they currently do).  We can go through all the recommendations but this is something you can do at your own leisure.

Yes, racing in the United States is legally framed differently than in Australia, but with some work, we can get close to proposals in the South Australian report.
The point is, there comes a time when horsemen, tracks, and breeders have to give up their provincialism and accept the fact each segment of the industry depends on the other for success; it is time to think in terms of 'we', not 'me'.  
I am not suggesting the USTA commission another study; they have already generated Zielinski Report 1 and the sequel, Zielinski Report #2.  You can see how the recommendations were carried out; very little.  I suggest those in the American harness racing industry read the Australian report and see what parts are applicable (or can be made to be applicable) to the American market.  I suspect a good part of the report applies.  We just need each segment of the industry to have their visionaries work together.