Saturday, March 16, 2013

With The Field: Meadowlands Horse Shortage

This week Yonkers Raceway announced the nominated pacers for the Bluechip Matchmaker and George Morton Levy Memorial series’. These six-week long events which culminate in two rich finals on Saturday, April 27 present one of the best earning opportunities for older horses that the game has available.
In the Levy each field of horses get to race for $50,000 for five consecutive weeks. Then the top eight money-earners return for a jackpot of around $450,000 in the final. The Matchmaker offers a $40,000 weekly prize pool for each race and a final that usually ends up in the upper $200,000 range.
All-time money-winning pacer Foiled Again has made a healthy living in the Levy series over the years. The now 9-year-old Ron Burke trainee has banked $963,150 over the last four years racing in the Levy. That represents just over 20 percent of his $4,625,984 career earnings. The son of Dragon Again won the series in 2009 and 2010.
Burke, who has six in the Levy and nine in the Matchmaker, also sends out perennial Levy big money earner Atochia. Also a son of Dragon Again, he has made $536,200 since 2009 in the series. The 2012 winner has earned just above 30% of his career $1,722,092 in the series.
Real Nice, who won the series in 2011 but did not nominate this year, has taken home $579,600 in his four-year Levy career. That sum is about 46% of his $1,245,289 career tally.
But back to the Burke stable.
While it is fun to watch the top older pacers, perhaps there needs to be a limit on the number of horses one stable can nominate to the series. Yonkers Raceway does a great job limiting the number of finalists from one barn to two. Maybe the maximum number of nominations from one barn needs to be five.
This is nothing against Burke, who does an awesome job of juggling the biggest stable on the planet. But in the interest of providing the best possible betting product and most competitive races, the prospects of having a Burke entry in half of the preliminary legs of the each series just doesn’t cut it.
Here’s hoping for an exciting six weeks of racing at Yonkers. The Matchmaker kicks off on Friday, March 22 and the Levy on Saturday, March 23.
While Yonkers will likely be welcoming top drivers Tim Tetrick and Yannick Gingras each weekend for the Matchmaker and Levy series, the Meadowlands is desperately seeking horses to ensure full fields for as many races as possible.
Operator Jeff Gural sent out a “from the heart” plea to the horsemen on Thursday. I have to admit that I’m not sure what these messages accomplish. Very few horsemen are going to alter what is in the best interest of their owners and horses to help the Meadowlands. In a perfect world there would be enough horses to go around for every track to race as much as they want. That is not the case.
Until the time comes when Meadowlands gets alternative gaming options and can lure horses away from the surrounding states, perhaps they need to capitalize on the summer and “dead periods” on the racing calendar.
I would propose a November to mid-March and last week of June until mid-August schedule (racing Thursday to Saturday) for the East Rutherford oval. That would ensure maximum horse population and the best chance of consistently full fields for the number one generator of harness racing handle in North America.
For the record, here is some of what Gural said:
As you know, the first twenty-nine days of the 2013 meet at the Meadowlands have been an overwhelming success.  The public has adapted to the classification system, along with the competitive style of racing full fields, etc. as our handle is up approximately 33%.  Last year we only had two days excluding the Hambletonian and Meadowlands Pace where the handle exceeded $3 Million dollars.  This year we already exceeded $3 Million dollars on thirteen occasions. 
That is the good news.
The bad news is that because all of our income is derived from wagering and horse racing we need to continue to generate handles of over $3 Million dollars every Friday and Saturday.  In order to do that we require full fields and since we are only racing two days beginning next week essentially we need 250 horses each weekend to fill both cards. Last weekend we had twenty-five fewer horses racing over the weekend and as a result our handle declined by $508,000. 
To be blunt, I need the industry to step up and support the Meadowlands which may not be the best business decision for everyone in the short term but, in my opinion, the industry needs a healthy Meadowlands and we deserve the support of the industry. 
The other option would be for us to drastically reduce the stakes program which I think would help increase our overnight purses but would have a very negative impact on the industry because our stakes program is vital to support the breeding industry.  It also serves to attract new customers by showcasing our best horses and creating the kind of excitement we see for our major races.  This will be especially true when we move into the new building. Currently we use 25% of our purse money to fund the stakes program approximately $4,200,000 while our competitors are typically using 10-12%. 
To be honest, I am not sure there are enough horses for all of the race days that are scheduled at Chester, Pocono, Yonkers, Dover and the Meadowlands.  It would seem at some point it should be addressed as the number of mares bred and yearlings born each year continues to decline significantly.  Common sense would tell you that this has to have an impact and that race days have to start to come down.  The bottom line is we cannot survive without full fields as we get killed when we have six or seven horse races no matter what the quality is.  We struggled to fill the card with short fields the last two weekends and Pocono is not open yet. 
I would rather see the industry support us on a voluntary basis as I think it is in everyone’s best interest that we continue to provide the type of product we have been providing for the last two and a half months.  Hopefully I can count on your support.
Meadowlands Saturday Spot Plays
I’ll be doing Saturday Meadowlands analysis again starting next week but here are some spot plays which caught my eye for this week:
I know he got caught after setting fast fractions last week, but with a couple of starts under his belt, that won’t happen this time around. I’d accept 4-5 or better on him.
Race 2 – (5) MODERN FAMILY
He was raced a bit more conservatively last week because he simply didn’t need to win the race to make the final. I expect him to be on the lead or sitting right on Quick Deal’s back this week. My target price is 7-5 or higher.
Had post 10 in his pari-mutuel debut and the race was over for him once he didn’t leave the gate. The trip was awful behind lackluster cover and he still finished with good pace.
Race 11 – (5) STATESMAN N
New Zealand import kicked home in 25 4/5 in his first U.S. qualifier. He’ll have to drop about four seconds to compete, but he looked like one that could be decent. If the price is at least 5-2 I would take a shot.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Harness Racing: Dumesny reports $2m profit

NSW Harness Racing Club chief executive John Dumesny reported a profit of more than $2 million at the club's annual general meeting yesterday.
The investments from the sale of Harold Park of more than $110 million returned nearly $3 million in interest.
At a time when most clubs are struggling, Dumesny is proud of his club's achievements.
''We are starting to see the benefit of the foresight of the club in owning Harold Park and will continue to make returns to the industry into the future,'' he said. ''We are in a very good position going forward. We will continue the development of Menangle and the first stage of the project will be ready for the Interdominion next year.''
NSWHRC will soon get race-fields money, which has been held in trust by Harness Racing NSW.
''These past fees which are estimated to be in the vicinity of $2.25 million will be applied to the Tabcorp Interdominion Carnival over the next three years,'' Dumesny said.
The Menangle building project means there will be no Miracle Mile this year.
The first leg of the elite Grand Circuit, the Queensland Pacing Championship, was run at Albion Park last night.
The series has been reduced to eight races in an effort to draw the country's best horses together more often, and includes the Miracle Mile, New Zealand Cup and Victoria Cup and ends with the Interdominion final. There are no more legs in South Australia and Tasmania and provincial clubs Bankstown and Ballarat have lost elite status for the Treuer Memorial and Ballarat Cup respectively.
Harness Racing SA and South Australia Harness Racing Club chief executive John Lewis announced a partnership with Betezy, in which Globe Derby will be branded with the corporate bookmaker's logo.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

John Cashman Harness Racing Veteran Dies

John Cashman

ATLANTIS, Fla. -- John Cashman, a veteran of the harness racing industry and the father of New York Yankees general manager Brian Cashman, has died. He was 72.
Carol Hodes, publicity director for the Standardbred Breeders & Owners Association of NJ, says John Cashman died Saturday in Atlantis, Fla. She says Cashman had been battling pancreatic cancer.
A New York native and an avid fan of harness racing since he was a young boy, Cashman would often accompany his father -- a steward for the New York State Racing & Wagering Board -- to the racetrack and other industry events.
In 1992, Cashman was inducted into the Harness Racing Hall of Fame in Goshen, N.Y., where he served as an active trustee.
Funeral services will be held at 10:30 a.m. on Wednesday at Holy Spirit Church in Lantana, Fla., the Yankees said. There will be visitation on Monday night from 6-8 p.m. and Tuesday from 2-4 and 6-8 p.m. at Tillman Funeral Home in West Palm Beach.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Harness Racing: New York Racehorse Safety

By Liz O'Connell
Huffington Post

More than five months after being formed, the New York Task Force on Racehorse Health and Safety has yet to share its findings concerning the alarming number of racing-related horse deaths (19) over the inner track during Aqueduct's winter race meet.
Akin to slamming the barn door closed after the horse is loose, on March 14, 2012 New York Governor Andrew Cuomo's staffers Robert Megna (Director, NYS Division of the Budget) and Bennett Liebman (Deputy Secretary for Gaming) sent a strong letter to New York Racing Association's then-president, Charles Hayward. Megna and Liebman directed NYRA to hire a consultant to investigate the cause of the catastrophic injuries plaguing the then-ongoing Aqueduct meet. On March 22, 2012, the New York State Racing and Wagering Board issued a press release announcing the formation of the New York Racehorse Health and Safety Task Force tasked with a broad investigative mandate to examine policies, practices and make recommendations beneficial to horse racing.
Since that initial missive on March 14 from Cuomo's messengers to NYRA, across the state at the four Thoroughbred race tracks at least 56 horses have had catastrophic accidents requiring euthanasia. Calculated through September 6, 2012, these latest losses have occurred while horses were training or racing at Aqueduct (8), Belmont Park (20), Saratoga (14) and Finger Lakes Race Track (14). Expected to be released on August 21, the report has been delayed with no release date given.
A report delayed is a report denied.
The most likely scenario is that the task force's recommendations are at odds with the New York Racing Association or its state government overseers. Or, perhaps the release of the report will be used as a publicity springboard for announcing the re-organization of NYRA and the new board and executives -- thereby reducing the safety of our racehorses to a political ploy. Of course, this will be denied by all parties. In the meantime, whatever the cause for the delay, whatever the excuse, there are horses dying while racing and training on New York's Thoroughbred tracks.
Until the report is issued and the recommendations promptly reviewed and implemented, every time a horse suffers a fatal breakdown at a New York track , a point to ponder is: could there have been a different outcome, other than euthanasia, if the task force's report had been released and its findings instituted in a timely fashion?
Racehorse breakdowns at Aqueduct.
Earlier in the year during the Aqueduct Winter/Spring Meet, there was an unprecedented number (19) of catastrophic racehorse breakdowns while the racing was on the inner dirt track. That the accidents occurred while racing, rather than being distributed between training and racing, leads to questions about race administration and the fitness of horses being entered in the races. This rash of breakdowns occurred at the same time the purses for the races benefitted from the influx of funds originating from the video lottery terminals at the newly opened racino at Aqueduct.
The underlying cause of the breakdowns was unclear. Backstretch fingers were pointed at NYRA's racing office for allegedly strong-arming trainers into entering questionable horses to fill and increase the size of fields to please handicappers (relying on an eventual pre-race scratch by the track vet that often did not materialize). If horses weren't entered by a trainer, allegedly that trainer's precious stall allotment could be diminished. Trainers are loathe to discuss this problem, commonly referred to as starts-per-stall, publicly for fear of retaliation by racing officials. Note: Starts per stall policies are used in some form at most race tracks, not just NYRA.
Conversely, trainers were blamed for entering unsound horses and trying to cash in on the slots-enriched purses. If this was the case, how could so many horses slip through the race track's pre-race veterinary soundness checks and observations?
Is this the new transparency in racing?
New York State Racing and Wagering Board
Upon the task force's announcement, I emailed Lee Park, Director of Communications of the New York State Racing and Wagering Board, a series of questions relevant to the task force's appointment. Board Chairman John Sabini and Executive Director Ron Ochrym were copied.
1. Are the members paid? If so, by whom and how much?
2. Why is there no surface expert on the task force? Someone like Mick Peterson?
3. What is the timeframe for the task force -- when is report due, first meeting?
4. When are meetings of the task force?
5. Are meetings of the task force open to the public? If not, why not?
6. Is this task force intended to satisfy the mandate in Governor Cuomo's letter to NYRA regarding the racing fatalities?
7. Will this team be looking at Finger Lakes and the harness tracks? If no, why not?

No response.
I asked the governor's office to provide the information I sought. No response.

I sent NYRA the questions and was referred back to the Racing and Wagering Board.
On May 30, 2012, I made a freedom of information request to Racing and Wagering that was partially answered after the maximum number of delays allowed by law; then the information was mailed to the wrong address.
Brief overview of processes related to the New York Task Force on Racehorse Health and Safety.
  • Initially, NYRA wanted to use the National Thoroughbred Racing Association as the investigative agency. This was declined on March 16 by the Racing and Wagering Board because "The NTRA is trade organization of which NYRA is a prominent member... Under these circumstances utilization of the NTRA Safety and Integrity Alliance does not present the level of independent and fresh analysis contemplated..."
  • On March 22, with much fanfare the task force was announced by the New York State Racing and Wagering Board. Retired Hall of Fame jockey Jerry Bailey, Alan Foreman - attorney and Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of the Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association, Scott E. Palmer V.M.D. -- equine veterinarian and surgeon, and Mary Scollay D.V.M. -- Equine Medical Director of the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission. Palmer was named chairman and he sent a letter to NYRA and the Racing and Wagering Board outlining the scope of the task force's mandates on March 27, 2012.
  • On April 1, 2012, the task force offered its opinion on the then-imminent changes being made to the claiming rules by the Racing and Wagering Board. In the letter, Palmer also said that the task force "plans to complete its investigation and report to NYRA and the NYSRWB within 30 days." That timeline would have had the report finished by May 1, 2012.
  • In an April 2, 2012 letter, Palmer requested veterinary and treatment records, necropsy reports and drug test results from the Racing and Wagering Board. The Racing and Wagering Board responded on April 5, 2012 with the available records for each horse. However, New York does not mandate necropsy (autopsy) of horses that die racing, unlike California and Ontario, so there were no necropsy reports. The Racing and Wagering Board did not include the individual records when fulfilling my freedom of information request.
  • Palmer sent a letter on April 3, 2012 to the Racing and Wagering Board requesting approval of a fee schedule for the task force members:
    Jerry Bailey --$250/hour plus expenses
    Alan Forman --$500/hour plus expenses
    Scott Palmer, VMD --$250/hour plus expenses
    Mary Scollay, DVM - expenses only; no hourly rate because she works for the State of Kentucky
  • The RWB referred Palmer to NYRA regarding fees. When I asked NYRA about the fee schedule, I was referred to Scott Palmer who has not responded to my query.
  • On May 10, 2012, Palmer requested a list of horses that finished in the top three in races where horses had catastrophic accidents during the winter Aqueduct meet. Among the information sought by Palmer was a list of any medications administered within 7 days of the race, the date the medication was administered and the route of administration.
  • There was further communication that day, May 10, from Palmer to Racing and Wagering justifying the request. On May 11, an internal Racing and Wagering email concerning the request was sent to the board's general counsel, Robert Feuerstein. Almost a month later Feuerstein sent an email to Racing and Wagering's acting secretary, Kristen Buckley, about the request. Beyond Palmer's explanation of need, the content of the emails was not disclosed in the materials received under the freedom of information request. It is unclear if or when the information was sent to Palmer, whether it was sent in May or delayed until June.
On August 8, the New York Post announced the report of the New York Task Force on Racehorse Health and Safety would be released on August 21 - the Tuesday of Travers Week. Travers Tuesday has come and gone, and no report. A delay was announced with no date for the report to be issued.
Since the aborted August 21 report release date, five Thoroughbreds have died in racing or training accidents. Golden Essence. Karakorum Magic. The Shade. She's Got Tude. Bluember.
Tick. Tock.
(Note: data concerning the catastrophic breakdowns of racehorses in New York was obtained from the New York state Racing and Wagering Board's Equine Breakdown, Death, Injury and Incident Database.)

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Harness Racing: Ohio is surging!

DAYTON: The Ohio harness racing industry is showing signs of resurgence three months after the opening of the state’s first racetrack with video lottery terminals, according to some in the racing industry.
Attendance at harness racing events is up, racing fans are betting more and the number of mares bred in Ohio is expected to rise, the Dayton Daily News reported.
Tracks in Ohio started slipping in attendance after Pennsylvania and Indiana approved video lottery gambling at racetracks in 2006, said Jerry Knappenberger, general manager of the Ohio Harness Horsemen’s Association. But many in the industry think the addition of video lottery terminals in Ohio will help draw more people to Ohio’s tracks and increase those tracks’ purses.
Scioto Downs in Columbus was the first to get terminals this year, and purses are up there from a range of $2,000 to $4,000 per race in 2011 to $4,000 to $15,000 this year. Betting on live races also is up about 35 percent over last year, said Stacy Cahill, Scioto Downs’ general manager.
“People who have never seen a race are going down to the track to see what’s going on,” Cahill said.
The Ohio Lottery Commission is reviewing five additional applications from racetrack owners to become video lottery terminal sales agents. The applications include one for Lebanon Raceway from the Miami Valley Gaming and Racing LLC., a joint venture of Delaware North Companies Gaming and Entertainment and Churchill Downs Inc.
“We’ve all been waiting for so many years for slots to save racing in Ohio,” said Vickie McNabb, director of the Lebanon Raceway track for the Ohio Harness Horsemen’s Association.
The American Horse Council has estimated that Ohio horse racing was once a $900 million agricultural-based industry that supported 25,000 jobs directly, involving more than 250,000 Ohioans. But the number of industry jobs fell to 15,000 during the past decade, Knappenberger said.
Pennsylvania and Indiana racetracks have used video lottery revenue to increase the purse money paid out to owners of winning horses and to increase the number of horses bred in those states. States with expanded gambling have seen increases in horse training and breeding operations, and in investments in farming and livestock and in the need for veterinary services to handle foal production, according to the Ohio Harness Horsemen’s Association.
Knappenberger said Ohio already is seeing more mares bred in the state after falling from more than 2,591 in 2003 to 687 in 2010. The number of Ohio-bred mares increased to 693 last year with the anticipation of larger purses helped by video lottery terminal revenue, and there should be more Ohio-bred mares this year, Knappenberger said.
Robert Schmitz, chairman of the Ohio State Racing Commission, warns that it’s too soon to predict the full impact of the lottery terminals on the racing industry, but he says he is encouraged.

Friday, August 31, 2012

NEW YORK: Jockeying for the last harness license

By David Lombardo

A fourth firm is vying for the eighth and final license to operate harness racing in the state. 
At the New York State Racing and Wagering Board meeting today, a group called the Oswego Racing Inc. will request approval for a certificate of incorporation. The group is proposing the creation of a project in Oswego County, in the town of Hastings, which would consist of a half-mile harness racing track and a 2.2 mile dirt auto racing surface. If the racing board grants this certificate of incorporation, it will put Oswego Racing Inc. on the road to becoming the eighth harness racing facility in the state. They’re a little late to the game, though, as three other firms have already received the certificate and are in various stages of the application process to get a license to conduct pari-mutuel harness racing. The three projects in the works are in Syracuse, the Thousand Islands area and Monticello. Gary Greenberg, minority owner of Vernon Downs Casino and Hotel, says the racing board should put off granting any licenses until the New York Gaming Commission is up and running. The commission, which is a consolidation of the racing board and the lottery division, will likely not be created until February of 2013.
“There is not any need for more harness tracks in New York state,” Greenberg said. “I am vehemently against this group ever seeing the light of day as far as a harness track or casino.”
The Oswego County proposal and the one for Syracuse would create harness racing within about 50 miles of Vernon Downs, which has harness racing and electronic games. “Vernon Downs has been in Central New York for decades and deserves state support to continue to grow and develop into a full casino,” Greenberg added. It is not clear whether the four groups pushing for the last harness license, which is limited by state law, are motivated by a chance to install the lucrative video lottery terminals. These electronic gambling machines are very lucrative but only can be installed if there is racing on the site. Additionally, there is some thought that existing racinos, which host racing and electronic gaming, will be favored in the selection process for full-fledged casino locations, if a constitutional amendment is approved. There are currently nine racinos in the state, including one in Saratoga Springs.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Harness Racing's Future Debatable

Editorial from the Times Union

In response to Joe Faraldo's "N.Y. horse racing a good bet," Aug.23, he touched upon many great points in the debate about the effect of video lottery terminals on the health of horse racing.
Being associated with horse racing in various ways in the last 35 years, my view has been skeptical of the effect of the VLTs. My concern has been that, over time, the VLT operators would lobby to discontinue the horse racing, which loses money in some instances.
I think the New York Racing Association tracks will be fine, and certainly the successful Saratoga Race Course meet will continue to do great with the increase in purses, keeping the best horses there in the future.
Looking at the Saratoga Casino and Raceway harness track is a different story, though. I do not know the track handle figures but, from going there over many years and seeing the parimutuel pool totals, I don't believe it has helped the racing there to any extent. It is often sad to see the harness track's win pool total way under $3,000 per race and less than 100 people watching the live races.
As Mr. Faraldo noted, the days of Roosevelt Raceway are gone forever. The question is: Will harness racing survive the times? More study is needed.


Read more:

Friday, August 24, 2012

Harness Racing: CAL EXPO SCORES!

Webis Holdings has announced that Watch and Wager ("W&W"), a US-incorporated wholly-owned subsidiary of European Wagering Services ("EWS", the Group's pari-mutuel operation), has unconditionally entered into an agreement with California Exposition & State Fair ("Cal Expo") in Sacramento, California.

It is for the lease and operation of standard bred harness race meetings at Cal Expo for a five year term to start next month. with effect from 1 September 2012.

As part of these arrangements, W&W's licence application to operate race meetings at Cal Expo has been approved by the Californian Horse Racing Board ("CHRB"). The approval was received on the basis that certain documentation of a standard nature is submitted by W&W to the CHRB.

The CHRB has also approved W&W's application to hold 16 race meetings in 2012, with the first meeting to take place on 2 November 2012. W&W's application for 2013 racedays will be considered by the CHRB in October in accordance with its standard raceday allocation procedures.

W&W has entered into an agreement to outsource the operation of the race meetings for the duration of the lease to Golden Bear, an independent organisation with expertise in this area. The majority of the funding required by W&W to operate the racetrack will be provided by cash flow generated from EWS's existing pari-mutuel business.

The Group's major shareholder, Burnbrae, has also indicated that it is prepared to provide further funding in support of the racetrack operation as required. The board anticipates that the Cal Expo business will at least break even at operating profit level in its first year of operation.

The Board believes that entry into these arrangements helps fulfil a key aspect of its strategy to extend EWS's presence in the US following the company's move to San Francisco. It also believes that increasing EWS's landbased as well as online presence in the US will help the business to secure additional racing content as well as provide further leverage in management's discussions with banking and other partners to find long-term customer payment processing solutions within the US.

Ed Comins, the Group's Pari-mutuel Operations Director, said: "The agreement with Cal Expo represents a significant milestone in EWS's development, both in terms of the existing business and other opportunities that we expect will arise from our involvement. We are also delighted to help secure the future of harness racing within the State of California."

Monday, August 13, 2012

Illinois State Fair: Harness racing gets financial boost

Entries and purses for harness racing eliminations have increased significantly at the Illinois State Fair.
Twenty-four races will be contested today and Saturday, compared to 16 during the first two days of eliminations in 2011. Purses for elimination races are $8,000. That’s up from $4,000 in 2010 and 2011.

“We had 80 more horses nominated this year than last year,” said Charlyn Fargo Ware, bureau chief of county fairs and horse racing for the Department of Agriculture.
There are five days of harness racing on the one-mile track at the Grandstand. Post time is noon.
Eliminations for 2-year-old Illinois-bred horses are today. Eliminations for 3-year-olds are Saturday. Each card will feature 12 races.
The increase in entries is possibly a trickle-down effect of the release last August of impact fee money from the highest-grossing riverboat casinos in Illinois. The money from a 3 percent surcharge on income from some of the state’s casinos had been tied up in court. A reported $142 million was distributed to horsemen and track officials, with $85 million released to purse accounts. The other millions went to tracks for improvements and operating expenses.
No races are scheduled for Sunday and Monday at the fairgrounds. Racing resumes Tuesday and runs through Thursday.
The grand circuit will compete Tuesday. The $40,000 state fair championship races are Wednesday and Thursday.
The leading trainer at the 2011 state fair was Ervin Miller with nine victories. Williamsville High School graduate Marcus Miller, Ervin’s son, was the leading state fair driver last year with 11 wins.
So many people love to race at the Illinois State Fair,” Fargo Ware said. “There is a tradition here. When you race at the Illinois State Fair, it still really means something. Many aren’t going to Chicago, so this is a great option for a lot of guys to race here.”