For photos from the Meadowlands contact

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Handicappers' Opinions Sought

A discussion is being held whether the inside passing lane attracts or deters bettors. Do you have an opinion regarding the inside passing lane on a 5/8ths mile track?  Do you like it or hate it?

Please provide your responses in the comments section.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Simulcasting Says It All - Part 2

The title of this entry could just as easily been 'Simulcasting Says it All - Mia Culpa' for in my last blog entry, it would appear I lay the whole decline on wagering in harness racing on integrity issues.   This would be totally wrong and doesn't represent my true feelings.

Don't get me wrong, the integrity scandals of my youth have certainly hurt the game.  When I first got interested in harness racing, I heard criticism as to how can I be interested in the trotters as it is all fixed?  The fact is thoroughbred racing has had its own share of cheating so there must be more to the decline in harness racing handle besides integrity issues.

It boils down to the quality of the product.  Gamblers realize harness racing is not a quality game when compared to the runners.  Sure it may be easier to learn but at what benefit?  When you are trying to beat a 18% rake and you run up against a constant parade of low prices, what is the risk/reward ratio?

Newer equipment may have improved speeds in horses but in this case, speed kills the game.  How many races are decided in the opening first half with the front runner taking a tuck and retake with no one willing to be the one to play hardball?  The innovation of the passing lane, which made sense when first implemented is one of the worst things to have happened as it discourages movement in a race.

Thoroughbreds race at varying distances and surfaces while 99% of harness racing is conducted at the mile distance.  The varied distances and changing surfaces allows for a level of intrigue which helps boost prices.  Harness racing for all practical purposes is missionary racing, plain and bland.  A boring game with relatively low prices is not a gaming product attracting gambling dollars.

For harness racing to grow its wagering handle it needs to change the game, accept innovation which makes handicapping challenging and interesting with larger mutuel prices, or stay vanilla and watch wagering continue to decline.  Slots or no slots, handle matters with regards to maintaining casino subsidies.

The sport has approached a crossroad, which way it goes remains to be seen.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Simulcasting Says it All

I can't help but notice all the press releases talking about tracks opening early on Saturday for the Dubai World Cup, finding them online as well as on the Standardbred Canada and USTA websites.  I understand the World Cup is a significant event, especially with Arrogate racing, so it is fair enough to see the tracks sign-on.

However, I can't help but wonder if the harness tracks have given up on harness racing as part of their purse structure.  Sure, the tracks have wagering on harness racing, but how many harness tracks (or their ADWs) have taken wagering on races from Europe or Australasia (there are a finite number of smaller ones which may)?  When did they take wagers on the Prix d' Amerique or the Elitlopp?  The Meadowlands had taken wagers on the Prix a few times, but the handle was so abysmal they couldn't bother doing it again.  The Elitlopp which usually gets a North American horse or two, no wagering.    Heck, even Yonkers Raceway which has a deal with PMU to send their races over to France can't bother taking any of the French races.  How many of us complain about a race at our favorite harness track not being show live on television because of a race of $2,000 claimers at some thoroughbred track in Western Canada?

The fact is those tracks which live on handle depend on thoroughbred signals to keep up purses.  As bad as the Meadowlands purses have fallen, could you imagine what the purses would be like if it depended solely on wagering on harness racing (live and imported)?

Of course, tracks will blame the bettors for abandoning the trotting game for the runners but they would be wrong.  You can't even blame it on takeout rates (though this is a big problem) or the game being stale.  At one time harness racing handle could hold its own to the runners but now, harness racing handle had dropped precipitously compared to the runners.  The blame lies with the industry's cavalier (or non-existent) concern about integrity.

I realize the harness game started as a family business but with the scandals of the past, trainers owning horses and sometimes driving them leads people to some concern, but add to that cousin Joey racing against cousin Ralph, and possibly Uncle Ben as well as horses going to some obscure trainer who runs their way up the standings and people wonder the worse.

What the answer is I don't know, but one thing is for certain, if the industry doesn't get behind integrity big time.  The harness game will all but disappear.

Monday, March 20, 2017

'Knowledge' vs 'Proof'; Bundling to Eliminate Post Time Drag

Last week, Joe Faraldo came out with a proposal to identify the presence of beards.  This week in HRU, one writer questioned why we need to have such a detailed proposal, arguing you know when a beard is being used.  The writer also questions the use of 'beard', as if it may not exist.  Sadly, we know beards do exist, the question is how big a problem it really is.

The problem is while you may 'know' who is using a beard, the fact is once in a while you may be wrong.  Should someone be tossed out of the business when they didn't commit a fraud upon the racing public?  Of course not, this is why Faraldo's proposal is important; it bases guilt on fact.  Sure, a large racing enterprise could conceivably generate false receipts, but when the commission gathers bank statements or goes to the one of the individuals the trainer claims to have paid and don't see the deposit, it becomes obvious an even deeper fraud takes place.

Good regulation takes time, not snap judgement.  It stinks when racing participants and horse players suffer when people know a trainer is using a beard, but it is a bigger crime when someone is iced without evidence.  This is part of the rules of racing, due process and the ability of someone to defend themselves.  Hence, Faraldo's proposal needs to be seriously considered and implemented as quickly as possible.

The creeping post time, is the bane of most handicappers.  After all, what is more frustrating than seeing the horses come out for post parade at post time, meaning you have another ten minutes until off time?  I understand the reasoning for the post time crawl, it doesn't make it right.  However, for a business hard pressed to earn revenue, especially when a non-slot track is involved, it is hard to lose revenue.  What can be done about this?

Let me once again bring up the idea of a simulcast network.  Not only would it allow multiple signals to be sold and bundled together to racetracks and ADWs, it would also allow a coordination of post times.  For example, let's say a simulcast network of WEG, Meadowlands, Tioga Downs, Vernon Downs, and Northfield Park was created (realizing each track doesn't race every night).  The tracks could set post times with the flexibility to change post times of other races due to inquiries or other unanticipated delays.  Hence, for the simulcast and ADW customer, racing would continue one race to another without significant delays and since multiple tracks are connected via the network, the need to go past post time for wagers would not be as important.

Revisiting bundled signals is something which needs to be revisited.

For those who live in the Harrington Delaware area, RUS MidAtlantic is having a paint night this coming Sunday.  Paint nights are a lot of fun and you can indulge your artistic self at the same time.  For those of you who use Facebook, more information is available below,

Thursday, March 16, 2017

The Passing of the Baton

Hall of Fame Driver John Campbell will take over as President of the Hambletonian Society effective July 1, 2017, replacing Tom Charters who was brought in to run the Society when the Breeders Crown races were conceived.  After 20 years, he has decided it was time to take it easy.  Charters deserves his break and the industry's thanks.

However, the ascension to the Presidency of the Hambletonian Society appears to mark the end of an era, as Campbell has announced he would fulfill all his driving commitments through June 30, suggesting he will be handing up the reigns and retiring from the sulky, ending a career which has resulted in over 10,600 wins and $299 million in purse earnings.  You can read the press release for the rest of his career highlights.

Of course, in picking a new leader for the Society, one can't pick a better person than John Campbell.  Not only is he a respected horsemen, he has a certain gravitas and presence with the media.  There is no better representative of the sport than him among active participants.  Of course, now comes his biggest challenge, the industry itself.

I realize the respect one has in the sulky may not translate to success as the head of a breeders organization, an industry which has had a hard time in recent years but if someone can build a consensus, it is John Campbell.  It isn't as if he is coming into this position cold, he has been the President of the Grand Circuit as well as involved with the Hambletonian Society since being elected a director in 1992.  He has enough time in the industry to know what is happening and he has the leadership abilities to be successful.

The baton is being passed.  I hope it is properly recognized.  I would suggest if anyone is entitled to a farewell tour of racetracks, it is Campbell.  Hopefully it will come to fruition.

Faraldo Takes on Beards

n an open letter, Joe Faraldo, President of the SOA of NY, provides a proposal he sent to the NYGC regarding the problem with beards in harness racing in an effort to bring any such allegations to a 'fact based' test.

All I can say is 'wow'.  To a person who has never operated a racing stable, it seems like a very detailed proposal which can be summed up as 'disclosure and follow the money'.  Trainers will have to document all the parties they do business with and account for the inflow and outflow of funds, accounting for every penny paid out or received by a trainer, making sure money is not being directed to hidden owners or trainers.

Bottom line is if you are a (small) trainer, you better make sure you have a highly competent bookkeeper or CPA doing your books and keep your documentation in order.  These requirements will take the hobbyist trainer out of the equation because the cost of keeping such records will be a deal breaker for them.

This is not to say I disagree with the proposal.  Far from it.  As far as I know, this is the first time anyone has offered a serious proposal for addressing the issue surrounding beards.  For a sport suffering from real and perceived beards, the damage has been done; the loss of support for the betting product is immeasurable.   Something has to be done and Faraldo's proposal must be seriously considered and I would recommend its implementation.  The problem will be as usual, carrying through with the process.

With all the budget constrictions racing commissions have, will racing judges ask for such information when warranted or will it happen only in the rarest occasion fearing the time involved in going over the paperwork or the court fights of trainers refusing to disclose their books?  Will New York adopt such a rule but other states fail to address the bearding problem, resulting in a shift of horses and/or trainers to states with looser rules, the same way trainers who can't get a licensde in one jurisdiction seem to show up elsewhere?

This said, one state moving in the right direction is better than inertia.  If the New York racing product is more palatable to bettors than the product in Pennsylvania or other states because New York takes a proactive step so be it.   This proposal requires serious consideration.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

RIP New Jersey Classic

Finally, the NJ Classic and the Miss New Jersey Stakes are dead, at least for the foreseeable future as a New Jersey Superior Court judge has refused to force the Meadowlands to host these stakes races this year, despite the plea of Attorney Howard Taylor.  Quite honestly, this is case which should never had been filed in the first place.

Stakes races get cancelled in the industry with some regularity; at most distributing payments to all horses which remain eligible is the sole recourse to owners.  Is this good business, especially for those who buy those yearlings?  Perhaps not, but the reality is it is part of the risks an owner takes on when they become race horse owners.  There are no guarantees in life and racing certainly falls into this category.

While the Northeast is getting hit with a snow/sleet storm which the media has over-hyped, winter is in its last legs and one of the most obvious signs of this transition to spring is the kicking off of the Blue Chip Matchmaker and George Morton Levy Memorial Series this weekend at Yonkers Raceway.  Friday night, March 17, bring us three divisions of the Matchmaker as twenty-four aged pacing mares have dropped into the box, featuring local favorite Krispy Apple and others.  In Saturday's Levy, thirty-one pacers comprise the four divisions of the first leg being raced.   Caviart Luca, All Bets Off, McWicked, Wakizashi Hanover will be the ones being watched in week one.

The Matchmaker and Levy Series kicks off this year's 2017 Hambletonian Society Grand Circuit Handicapping Challenge.  With additional sponsorship, the prize fund for standardbred rescue will cross over the $8,000 line this week.  The handicappers have selected their rescues which may be found here.    Thanks to the sponsors and HANA Harness for supporting the efforts of Standardbred Rescue.  You may follow the contest at the contest website the entire year.

Another sign of spring is the opening of Mohegan Sun at Pocono Downs as Saturday night is the first card of the 2017.  With higher purses than the Meadowlands, trying to fill races at the Meadowlands will be a bigger challenge than ever.  Until something changes, either the Meadowlands finding a way to subsidize its purses or Pennsylvania taking a big shave, this is the way it is going to be; the Meadowlands being the child always being picked last.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Looking Forward to Christen Me

Later this year, North American harness racing fans will be watching the latest Australasian wonder doing his thing on our raceways as Christen Me is heading over from New Zealand, seeking to regaining his peak form which allowed him to win $2.4 million (NZ)  and eleven Group 1 stakes back home.

His owners, who plan on selling the eight year old son of Christian Cullen for racing purposes with an eye on his return to New Zealand when he retires from racing, feel Salix will be the key to reviving his career as he suffers from EIPH and the drug is not permitted where he races.  Based on the results of some other horses which have been imported for similar reasons, there are reasons to be optimistic.

Thankfully, this is not being hyped as much as Auckland Reactor's arrival on our shores as that experience can be best described as an unmitigated disaster.  Of course, the Australian pacer was sent over in the prime of his racing career and for whatever reason, he couldn't acclimate to North American racing even after surgery (my suspicion it was partially due to them not allowing enough time to acclimate).  So while, Christen Me will be watched to see if he returns to his stellar form, he will not be looked at as the wonder horse, easing the stakes on his trainer and owners-to-be.

As previously said, he does have some pedigree.  The winner of 32 out of 68 starts, his domestic record of 1:51.5 for 1,609 meters was set at Ashburton as a five year old while his overall record of 1:49.1 (MR) was set in Australia back in 2014.

Here is victory in the Auckland Reactor at Ashburton where Christen Me set a then New Zealand record for the mobile start.

Here is Christen Me's 1:49.1 victory in the 2014 Miracle Mile against Beautide, himself a winner of $2.1 AUS) and 49 wins out of 81 starts and a lifetime mark of 1;50.2.

I for one will be waiting to see how Christen Me does in North America.  It can be an exciting ride.

In France, Timoko has broken Varenne's stake record of 1:52 in the Criterium de VItesse with a 1:51.4 victory in the race at Cagnes sur Mer.  This is the ten year old's fourth Criterium victory and third in a row.

Post Script: I have wondered why we can't have standings starts in the United States?  While the vault starts in France seem to be orderly, if standing starts are like this one where Christen Me was victorious, I know why a standing start wouldn't work in North America, it is like waiting for post time to actually happen.  For the record, Christian Me was the victor in a mile rate of 1:58.5 for the 2,600 meter route.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Only the Good Die Young

The racing industry is mourning the passing of Hall of Fame Track Announcer Sam McKee and deservedly so; being he was well-liked and respected.  To call him one of the good guys would be an understatement.  Sam was generous with his time and supported groups, whether for the Christian Harness Horsemen Association or RUS America.

Other people have written about Sam far better than I can so I won't even try.  All I will say is Sam was one of the 'good guys' and Billy Joel's song title "Only the Good Die Young" seems truer than ever.  He will be greatly missed.  RIP Sam.

The Meadowlands final Thursday night race card is being raced tonight and if you wonder why already, you just need to look at the card;   Three of the nine races are for $7,500 claimers along with an additional race for amateur drivers.  With Pocono Downs opening next week, these horses may be needed on the weekend.

For the first time ever, Yonkers raceway will be carding an all-trotting card on Sunday, March 12; eleven races for trotters.  I don't know about you, but I love trotting races.  With seven of the races at a mile and a quarter with overflow fields, it may be a great wagering card.  Funny thing is while Yonkers can have an all-trot card, you won't see them in Alberta, Canada; any trotting races at all.  You just don't see trotters in the province.