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.