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Thursday, August 25, 2016

Overachievers And Underachievers Eight Months In

This is a good time to scope out some of the overachievers and underachievers of the 2016 season. We’ll start with the former.

Indiana bred Hannelore Hanover, a daughter of the Andover Hall stallion Swan For All, has banked more 2016 money among the trotting set than all but Southwind Frank and Marion Marauder. She went from being a three-year-old regional queen to arguably the best aged trotter in North America. The Burke trainee has already won the Armbro Flight, Hambletonian Maturity and Miami Valley Distaff. She is favored in Friday’s Muscle Hill and will no doubt receive an invitation to the million dollar Yonkers International on October 15.

The six-year-old SBSW gelding Shamballa performed very well on the WEG circuit last year, winning eight times for almost $360,000, but he couldn’t quite get there when he stepped up to the Quillen, CPD, Dayton Pacing Derby or BC. This year trainer Rick Zeron’s statement that his charge would go whatever the likes of Always B Miki and Wiggle It Jiggleit went in the Franklin, Haughton and USPC was greeted with derision, but Shamballa was second at 39/1 in the Haughton and then stunned the sport with a win over all the division studs in 1:47.1 in the USPC for Scott Zeron. He then finished in a dead heat for third in the Dan Patch and is now prepping for a start in the Canadian Pacing Derby, where he will not be taken for granted. Shamballa has earned $304,000 in ten starts.

Rockin Ron, a four-year-old Real Desire gelding from the Burke Barn, has upset Wiggle It Jiggleit twice this year, in the Confederation Cup and in the Prix D’Ete this past Sunday. After spinning his wheels in the Indiana program last year, Ron has generated 11 wins good for $375,000 in 2016.

Musical Rhythm, a four-year-old Cantab Hall trotter based in Canada, won six times for $66,000 at three for Tony Alagna, but has really blossomed this year under the care of the Baillargeons. His earnings are up over $300,000 and he has a dozen wins, including the Graduate Series final.

The underachievers are plentiful and spread across all classes, but the aged pacing mares in particular stand out. Suffice it to say, they have not compensated for the premature retirement of JK She’salady. Division winner Divine Caroline, who won the BC and Garnsey last year earning $667,000 on 8 wins and 19 board finishes, has one win in 13 starts, good for $44,000.

Sassa Hanover, who earned $523,000 and won the Jugette, Adioo Volo and Courageous Lady, has won twice in 17 starts for $40,000.

Joe Holloway’s Bettor’s Delight filly, Bettor Be Steppin, banked more than $468,000 last year, with wins in the Valley Forge and the Lynch, but she’s gone the other way in 2016. She is winless in ten starts and has barely cracked $10,000 in earnings.

Mosquito Blue Chip is another disappointment. She came on strong at the close of 2015. After her win in the Matron, upping her seasonal earnings to more than $373,000, it looked like she’d be a force in the aged ranks for Rene Allard. However, the Bettor’s Delight mare has left that promise unfulfilled, with a one for ten record and a slim $26,000 bankroll.

Among the four-year-old pacers, Wakizashi Hanover, who banked more than a million dollars in 2015 on wins in the Cup, Jenna’s Beach Boy, PA Championship and Keystone Classic, got started late due to sickness and is winless in five starts with only $12,000 to show for his effort.

After winning 15 of 17 starts in 2015 Freaky Feet Pete, who took the BC, Monument Circle, Circle City and American National, has come up short in the open ranks. The fact that he no longer has access to all that sire stakes money has cut into his $854,000 earnings from last year and three of his five wins are in the Hoosier Park invitational. He was on the losing end of a spirited battle with Wiggle in the Graduate final. Pete is not staked to the CPD. The Big Three has been reduced by one.

The Well Said pacer Lost For Words didn’t put together much of an open stakes resume last year for Brian Brown, but he hit the board in 15 of 18 starts and made a name for himself chasing Wiggle around the track at Delaware Ohio, and even winning a heat there. That and success in the PASS added up to $695,000. He’s two for ten in 2016 and has only earned $34,000. The prospect of him becoming a productive aged pacer is on hold.

The Rocknroll Hanover sophomore Boston Red Rocks has disappointed on the Grand Circuit. He took the division last year thanks to wins in the BC and Governor’s Cup, but he only has a pair in 11 starts in 2016, with one being in his Cup elimination. Steve Elliott’s charge entered the season second on the Hoof Beats Predictive Ranking.

At least Boston Red Rocks has earned $267,000; the Kadabra sophomore Tony Soprano, who won four Golds as well as the Super Gold final in 2015, has only banked $29,000 thanks to a winless season thus far.

Dog Gone Lucky, from the second crop of Lucky Chucky, is another three-year-old trotter who hasn’t lived up to expectations. He sports the same zip for five record as Tony Soprano, with earnings of $10,000. This after taking the Valley Victory and Matron in 2015 and banking $506,000.

Zero for five seems to be a theme with four-year-old trotters. Pinkman, the division champ at two and three, who earned $1.8 million last year on wins in the Hambletonian, Beal, Stanley Dancer, CTC and Kentucky Futurity, has one win in Sweden, which brought in $59,000, but none in NA, where he has failed to crack $20,000. The aged trotting ranks are mighty thin. We could use the Explosive Matter gelding in last year’s form.

Three- time division winner Anndrovette has fallen on hard times. She only won three times last year, but that included the Golden Girls and Lady Liberty and she banked $363,000. This time around she’s one for thirteen with $80,000. While stablemate Venus Delight, who took the Matchmaker, Milton and Artiscape in 2015, has won twice for $171,000—far short of the $603,000 she took in last year.

Color’s A Virgin is another mare with an accomplished past who has faltered in 2016. She won eight times last year, including the BC and Allerage mare, for $$302,000. This year she’s one for ten with less than $23,000 in the bank.

Joe FitzGerald

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

A Novel Solution to the Declining Foal Problem

In an article for the DRF, Bob Marks discusses the problem with the declining foal crops facing standardbred racing (it is also a problem for thoroughbreds but we'll let them solve their own problem).  With all apologies to Marks, allow me to simplify what I deduce from his reporting (though I encourage you to read his article):

  • Buyers want stakes-caliber horses
  • Few of the foals turn out to be stakes horses so the future progeny of sires who don't produce stakes horses in one year get sold cheaply

  • Many horses turn out to be nice raceway stock
  • Breeders produce lots of nice raceway stock
  • People don't go to yearling sales looking for nice raceway stock
  • These raceway stock foals get sold cheaply, often below the cost of production
  • When costs of most foals exceed the prices foals receive, breeders go out of business
  • Fewer breeders mean less foals 
  • Less foals means less race horses (aka horse shortage)
  • Horse shortage means less races, racing dates, and eventually less racetracks
A solution would be to divert money from stakes and claiming races to conditioned overnights in order to make it easier for owners to recoup costs from those foals which don't turn out to be stakes horses thus promoting prices for these raceway foals.  Unfortunately, as Marks states, there has been only modest changes to purse structures at too few tracks.  Clearly this is not working fast enough.  Changes need to be made.

First of all, while breeders supposedly are seeking to the 'next great horse', the fact is not every breeder can produce champions; many breeders are at best are fortunate if they can improve their breeding relative to their prior breeding attempts.  

Secondly, the industry needs raceway stock, more so than it needs stakes-caliber horses.  After all, with the exception of sires stakes races, how many stakes races are conducted at tracks like Pocono Downs and Yonkers Raceway when compared to their overnight events?

Hence, I would argue there is nothing wrong with being a breeder of raceway stock.  If the costs of raising horses is so prohibitive and the horsemen are unwilling to adjust purses to give bidders a chance to recoup the costs involved in getting a horse to the track which punishes breeders and puts the whole industry at risk, something needs to change.  The answer is 'subsidies'.

Yes, subsidies.  While some money goes to breeders for awards, breeders need subsidies.    Subsidies not too great to reduce the incentive to improve the breed, but enough to give them a fair chance to come out ahead.  Where would this money come from, racino revenue.  Divert some of the money going to purses to breeders.  

You may be asking what makes me think breeders would be able to secure more racino funds when they can't get horsemen to agree to a shift in how purses are allocated?  Breeders have more political clout at the statehouse than they do at the racetrack.  They can make an argument breeder subsidies remain in state while purses are more likely to be spent out of state.

Let's have stakes companies report to the state where a breeder comes from the sales prices of each foal sold along with the name of the breeder.  For each foal crop, the state would determine the cost for raising a horse.  The only horses which would qualify for a subsidy are ones raised in the state.  Based on the total loss for a breeder of eligible horses, the breeder will get a proportional share of the breeders subsidy.  

Depending how much is dedicated to the breeder's pool, a breeder may end up with a profit at best or at least have part of their loss absorbed with slot revenue, enough to keep the breeders in the game.  To make sure this subsidy doesn't become welfare, breeders would be penalized if the average sales price of their yearlings doesn't improve by having their share of the slot revenue decrease.  Hence the expectation is breeders will improve their stock.

With the use of subsidies breeders will have more incentive to remain in the business and possibly increase the number of foals the will raise, thus supplying the horses needed for race tracks.

It's worth considering.

Monday, August 22, 2016

We Need More Hardball in Harness Racing

And this was a lesson learned yesterday in the Prix d'Ete.  Rockin Ron shocked the harness racing world by defeating Wiggle It Jiggleit by half a lengh in 1:52,1 over an off track at Hippodrome 3R.

Unlike in many of the big races where it seems the race is defaulted to the heavy favorite; no one wanting to take the overwhelming favorite and risk running out of the money in a race with a slot-fueled purse, Yannick Gingras decided to take on Montell Teague and Wiggle It Jigglit, using his position along the rim to beat WIJI..  Instead of yielding to the sure thing and earning second place, Gingras played hardball and refused to let WIJI clear, making him lose the lead on the final turn; enough to get Rockin Ron the win.

More races should be competed as hard as this one was.  Then some of those stakes races where a forgone conclusion happens would actually be a competitive race and appeal to gamblers as well.

Why is Exchange Wagering Being Resisted?

With Betfair having started exchange wagering in New Jersey, one has to wonder why the only harness tracks which offer it are the Meadowlands and WEG.  My question is, why?  Why the resistance towards exchange wagering.

Full disclosure, I love exchange wagering.  Who wouldn't after years of getting their 15-1 shots crushed to 3-5 after the race begins?  Maybe I could play the exchange better, but let me tell you, knowing you are getting the odds you put your wager in at is a satisfying feeling.

No, the promised for cut in takeout isn't as deep as it was originally promoted, the vig being 12%, but 12% is a lot better than you get with regular wagering.  The one bad thing is the way you see the takeout taken.  Whereas, in regular wagering the odds you are going to be paid are shown after the takeout has been taken, in exchange wagering you see the full price and the takeout being a separate line item; so when you win $10, you see $1.20 being deducted, netting you $8.80.  But if you can get past this visual, isn't 12% better than 18%, especially if you don't get a rebate?

Yes, exchange wagering eliminates rebates, but isn't it better if everyone gets a defacto rebate instead of just the high rollers?

Still, why don't tracks sign up for exchange wagering, if only for out of state customers?  Let's not kid ourselves, tracks want to make as much money as possible so maybe you they are hesitant to ofer exchange wagering in-state, especially if a track offers their own ADW.

The only reason one can see to offering exchange wagering to out-of-state horseplayers is the liquidity.  Wagers bet through ADWs provides for your own pools, but one needs to consider the fact a $1 wagered through an ADW contributes (on average) 1.5 cents to the track and the same to the purse account.  But the exchange contributes 3 cents to the track and the purse account; double what is being made in simulcasting.  Still not a lot, but with most wagering occurring of track, isn't twice as much earnings better than nothing?

Sunday, August 21, 2016

YS Lotus Snags Gold Cup and Saucer; Make or Break in NJ; Blog Suggestion

Another Gold Cup and Saucer is in the books and YS Lotus was an easy winner by six lengths in a track record time of 1:50.1 which tied the Canadian record for an older pacer on a half mile oval.

YS Lotus was given the perfect drive, staying mid-pack early in the race as the leader Go Daddy Go tripped the timer in a :26.1 first quarter.  As Daddy took the field through the second half, YS Lotus begun his move racing on the outside in a :27.4 (:54.1) second quarter.  By the time the field reached the three-quarter pole, YS Lotus on the outside took the lead in 1:22.2.  After that it was all over as the leader cruised home in a :27.4 final quarter to win by six opening lengths.  The early pace setter Go Daddy Go managed to hold on to second with Alexis Jackpot finished third.

As for Foiled Again, it was a disappointing fifth. eleven lengths off the winner.  Granted he went a tough race parked the entire mile but never was a factor, his back class getting him the final check.  While he may still have the heart to race, clearly Father Time has caught up to the classy twelve year old pacer; any future wins will be coming in cheaper company.  Retirement is something which should be considered; but based on previous comments, I am not sure it is in his immediate future.

I understand this is a horse who wants activity and likes to race, I understand this.  However, after earning more than $7.4 million, it would be better if they found him a new job which would keep him active, but away from the rigors of racing and his continuing drop through the racing ranks.

Make no mistake, this past meet at the Meadowlands was not good, but there is no blame to be assigned, at least with regards to management.  As seen in an article from the Asbury Park Press, Monmouth Park is suffering as well.  Out of state wagering down 30% from last year and Haskell Day, their equivalent to Hambletonian Day showed the worst performance in 14 years.  As much as both tracks have tried their best since Governor Christie tried to kill horse racing, you can only put the finger in the dyke so long before the water leaks; in this case, the water leaking out to other states leaving NJ racing high and dry.

While the model is broken with regards to revenue earned on out of state wagering, the bottom line is racing lives and dies on purses.  Higher purses bring in better horses which brings better wagering which brings better....., well you get the idea.  When you can't offer better purses, the best horses are racing elsewhere or racing at your facility on certain days to cherry pick the best purses you can offer.  Mediocre racing means less spending on marketing which means people lose interest in your product, if they can even remember when you race so handle drops.

November 8 is a make or break day for NJ racing.  Make will mean at least some resurgence in racing.  I dread to even think what break will be like, both for the runners and standardbreds.

I found some interesting reading from the other side of the pond.  During the run up to and the Vincent Delaney Memorial weekend, Sarah Thomas interviewed Dexter Dunn and Aaron Merriman, both interesting reads.   As for her blog itself, Harness Racing in Scotland, it is a blog to follow if interested in racing in Scotland (obviously) and elsewhere in the UK and Ireland.  Due to Thomas' other duties, the blog isn't updated that frequently, but when it is updated, it is great reading.