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Thursday, September 29, 2016


Responding to a previous blog entry, someone offered the suggestion that instead of wasting $100,000 for the Chester Driving Championship, the PHHA would have been better served to offer ten $10,000 awards to people who informed on the beards.

I don't know if this person (who posted anonymously) was serious or tongue-in-cheek but it made me wonder, what if we offered bounties for people who informed on those who were involved with serious violations of racing rules or those who acted as beards?  We are not talking about overages or missing cut off times; it is the use of illegal medications (not approved for horses or serious PEDs); being or employing a beard.  Would something like this work or would we be flooded with people making false accusations in an attempt to 'cash in'?

With regards to people making false accusations, steps could be taken to punish those who report accusations which turn out to be unquestionably false, the same way people are punished for making frivolous appeals.  Secondly, no process against the accused would even begin until investigators could substantiate the accusations.

So assuming we took care of the problem of false accusations, what would offering bounties to informants do to the racing industry?  Would it make trainers paranoid that someone could be watching every step they took, in effect our own mini-McCarthy era?  Would this fear, irrational or not, cause trainers to hew to the rules more so or just drive these cheaters underground more? Woul such a fear be a bad thing? Obviously, those who attempt to follow the rules would have nothing to fear but those who bend the rules or function as beards would find themselves under pressure from the fear of being caught.

What would the reward be?  It could be a percentage of the fine or purse money returned, it can be a specific bounty from a fund established via horsemen or from fines paid to the state.  One thing, the reward would need to be big enough to compensate someone who may be subjected to retaliation.

I don't know if it would work but I'd love to see such a system be implemented as a pilot program to see if it was something worth doing and expand to all racing states.

What do you think?

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Another Program Trainer Gets Taken Down but....

not in harness racing.

Another program trainer (aka a Beard) has been suspended, this time by the NJRC as Chloe Bradley got sat down for 45 days and a $1,500 fine for entering a horse at Monmouth Park when the judges determined the horse actually remained under the control of Ramon Preciado.  Good for the stewards at Monmouth Park for discovering this problem.

My question is how often does this happen in harness racing?  Once in a very long blue moon you will see a commission catch someone, but it is indeed a rarity.  The Meadowlands does attempt to keep most beards away through use of the exclusion rule (though not consistently) but many people surrounding the industry know who are bearding for who yet nothing seems to happen.

My question is how do people who hang out in the clubhouses and even the railbirds seem to know who is bearding for who yet the judges seem to be ignorant of this?  I realize the judges are not hanging out with trainers in the backstretch so to blame the judges alone would be completely unfair.

My question is why isn't anyone who is 'in the know' reporting this information to the judges?  I understand no one wants to be known as a snitch, but by allowing these beards to continue operating, don't they realize the purse money these unscrupulous individuals are earning is money coming out of their pockets and further damaging the racing product?

Yet, one has to wonder if the judges are doing their jobs.  After all, when a horse trained by John Doe when stabled in Pennsylvania is transferred to Jane Smith when racing one state over before returning to the original trainer bells should be going off.  Is it just the trainer never got licensed in one state and it was easier to transfer the horse or is it the original trainer is still running things, using a beard because they aren't allowed to race in the state?  A 'visit' to the original trainer's stable may be all which is needed to tell if a transfer is legitimate or not.

I get it.  Following all these beards requires a financial commitment, something racing commissions are reluctant to do considering their limited budgets.  But if they are abdicating their investigative responsibilities, may I suggest the state commission fold and contract out their duties to another state or a national board to be created?

Sunday, September 25, 2016

How Are The Top 25 Trainers Faring As Compared With This Point In 2015?

Here’s a look at how the top trainers are faring as we approach the last quarter of the year. I compared their stats for this past Monday, September 19, and those for September 19 2015.

Number one Ron Burke has made 165 (5%) fewer starts than a year ago; his win total is down by 67 (10%); he’s short more than $2 million (12%). His UTRS dropped from 0.338 to 0.321.

Second place Jimmy Takter has made 11 more starts, accounting for nine fewer wins. His earnings are off by more than $782,000, or 10%.

Rene Allard, who unlike Burke and Takter, doesn’t have a very big footprint on the Grand Circuit, has made 25% more starts this year (381). For all that extra activity he only shows 7 more wins, and his money has dropped by 10%--almost $430,000. Rene’s UTRS dropped from 0.396 to 0.336. So the top three, who were slotted the same in September 2015, are all at least 10% poorer in 2016.

Number four Tony Alagna was at seven a year ago. His win total is exactly the same, despite making 78 fewer starts. His earnings have jumped by 19%, or almost $679,000. Tony’s UTRS rose from 0.334 to 0.380.

Ake Svanstedt moved up from number 12 a year ago to number five. He made 16% more starts, won 14% more races, and earned 28% more money (almost $775,000) since Sept 19 of last year.

Erv Miller moved up from ten to six. He won six more races in 99 fewer starts. His money is up 14%, or about $366,000. His UTRS rose from 0.287 to 0.319.

Linda Toscano jumped from 11 a year ago to number 7. She made 16% more starts (91), won 10% more races and earned 18% more money--$462,000. Her UTRS dropped from 0.343 to 0.321.

Julie Miller is at number eight, the same place she was last year. She made 12% fewer starts and won 9% fewer races. Her earnings are off by 10%. Miller’s UTRS rose from 0.321 to 0.357.

Chris Oakes moves up from 17 a year ago to number nine. His starts are up by 37%; he won 35% more races; and his earnings jumped by 31%--more than $745,000. His UTRS rose from an already heady 0.405 to an other-worldly 0.448.

Richard Moreau is at number ten, up from 14 last September. He made 89 more starts (9%), and that generated only two more wins, but the WEG leader saw his earnings increase by $388,000, or 17%.

Jeff Bamond, whose top pacing mares have all abandoned him at once, except for Krispy Apple, dropped from number four to eleven. His starts are up by 10%, but he only shows five more wins and is short $1.1 million, or 33%. Jeff’s UTRS dropped from 0.321 to 0.312.

Gilbert Garcia-Herrera dropped from five to twelve. His starts are down by 12%; his win total is off by 36%; and his money is off by 35%. Gilbert’s UTRS dropped from 0.310 to 0.250.

Richard Banca has moved up from 19 to 13. His starts are up by 31%, while his win total stepped up 12%. Banca’s earnings jumped 23%. His UTRS dropped from 0.352 to 0.302.

Brian Brown dropped from nine to 14. His starts, wins and money are off by 8%, 14% and 20%, respectively. And his UTRS fell from 0.380 to 0.344.

Jim Dailey flew all the way from number 49 to number 15. His starts and wins are only up by 4% each, but his money rose by $780,000, or 44%.

Casie Coleman climbed from number 30 to 16 on the strength of 27% more money generated in 39% fewer starts. The trainer of Jug winner Betting Line only won one more race than she did a year ago to this point. Her UTRS rose from 0.315 to o.433.

Number 17 Thomas Milici wasn’t on the top 50 list a year ago. The sixty-year-old wunderkind has already chalked up 66% more starts than he made in all of 2015. Both his win and earnings totals are up by a mind blowing 82%.

Chris Beaver stepped up 18 spots to number 18. He has made 32% more starts, leading to 38% more wins and 30% more money.

Dylan Davis is another shooting star. He failed to make the top 50 a year ago but is currently at number 19. He has made 5% more starts than in all of 2015. He has just as many wins and his money is up 23% over all of last year.

John Butenschoen, who has several promising freshmen, jumped from 32 to 20. His starts are up by 9%, resulting in only 5 more wins, but his earnings have increased by $374,000, or 23%.

Tony O’Sullivan fell from 15 to 21. His starts are down by 149, or 27%. He has 19 fewer wins and has banked 15% less money.

Ohio trainer Virgil Morgan Jr dropped all the way from number six a year ago to 22. He has made 26% fewer starts, won 39% fewer races and earned 46% less money—that’s $1.3 million less.

Wiggle it Jiggleit’s trainer Clyde Francis is at 23. He was number 22 a year ago. He has made 65% more starts than he had to this point last year, but that still adds up to less than 100. Francis has 38 wins, as opposed to 18 at this point in 2015. His earnings are up 5%.

Carmen Auciello dropped from 16 to 24. He has made 18% fewer starts, won 16% fewer races and banked 14% less money.

Number 25 is Steve Elliott, down from 13 last September. His starts are down 10% and his wins are off by 12%. Elliott has earned about $562,000 less than last year. That amounts to a 28% drop.

Joe FitzGerald

Saturday, September 24, 2016

A Risky Game of Speculation

With the main proponents of the NJ Casino Expansion bill ceasing to spend on advertising, resigned to letting the chips fall where they may, it would appear the referendum for North Jersey gaming will go down to defeat.  Thus, horsemen and others in the harness racing industry no doubt are wondering what this will mean to the Meadowlands.  Some people are claiming this is the end of the Meadowlands.  

With Jeff Gural already committing to keep on racing, albeit with a cut stakes calendar, it is too early to write the epitaph for the Meadowlands. Make no mistake, the quality of racing is likely to decrease further but talk of its death is too soon.  If referring to the end of racing as we knew it there; a different story no doubt.

So let's play a parlor game of Speculation, where we come up with what we think racing will look like next year in East Rutherford.  This is particularly risky because lets face it, I don't have the financials nor do I know what Mr. Gural has planned. Furthermore, we likely won't hear anything until after election day because lets face it, while highly unlikely, the referendum could pass.

While I am focusing on the Meadowlands, there is Freehold Raceway to consider.  I suspect things will continue on pretty much the same.  This means in 2017, roughly 110 days of racing will take place.

As for the Meadowlands, I suspect they will try to cut back on their 90 days of racing; probably more like 80 days.  Of course, under NJ law, the horsemen have to agree to the cut in racing dates

Were I to apply for racing dates, the Meadowlands would go back to its meat and potato days, racing the majority of dates in the winter, possibly on a three or four day schedule.  Then I would schedule a summer meet around the Hambletonian, with possibly ten weeks of racing twice a week.

Other than the Hambletonian, I would probably end the majority of stakes races; perhaps keeping the TVG Series races for older horse around as TVG sponsors the races.  Overnight purses would be cut a bit to allow for repayment of the purse account deficit so the bottom level would remain at the $7,500 claiming tag as was the case this year. only theses races would be contested more often.

Of course, what happens once the Meadowlands closes the first weekend in August?  This year there has been more harness racing taking place, I would imagine that would be out.  I wouldn't be surprised if the Meadowlands seeks a thoroughbred meet of their own, not just Monmouth Park at Meadowlands, in an effort to see if  the return of the runners for a longer stanza would result in more income opportunities to cut the losses.

So those are my thoughts.  Putting all this out here now is risky because while some of these ideas may actually come to fruition, there is a good chance of me ending up with egg in my face.  Time will tell.  

Do you have any predictions?

Friday, September 23, 2016

Unwelcome Guests and Yougurt

Jug week is over and I for one am sorry it didn't end sooner.  For a week which usually shows harness racing at its county fair best with some of the best horses racing, this is a week which will be known as the appearance of an unwelcome guest and in true American-theater, Yogurtgate.

The controversy started the day before the Jugette when persona non-grata Lou Pena was seen inside the stall of entrant I Said Diamonds which necessitated a scratch of the filly.  Pena is not licensed in Ohio and as such it was a violation of detention rules.  One can wonder what Pena was doing in the stall.  It is not my place to make any accusations, but being Pena is a person with a checkered past, his presence was certainly not welcomed by the vast majority of the race's participants.  It will be up to Ohio racing officials to determine what kind of relationship Pena may have with the listed trainer Matias Ruiz.

If that wasn't bad enough, then came Yogurtgate.  When a phone lost by one of Trainer Cassie Coleman's assistants was found, the person came upon messages which could have been considered indicative of wrong-doing, possibly suggesting treating the horse in violation of detention barn rules.  Coleman claims the 'treatment' talked about was yogurt though one has to wonder why the message didn't say "..get his yogurt into him.." instead of referring to a 'treatment'.  Maybe it was a poor choice of words but it certainly caused a lot of controversy with trainers threatening a mass scratch but thankfully voting instead not to post parade with the eventual Jug winner Betting Line and racing under protest.   To be balanced, it needs to be reported that Coleman's stalls, trailer, and car were searched by racing officials with nothing coming up.  Needless to say, even if completely vindicated, this will not be one of racing's proudest moments, one covered by the Columbus Dispatch for its readers.

Sadly, apparently Coleman uses any old yogurt.  Think of the commercial endorsements which could have been forthcoming if a named-brand was used.

One thing is for sure, Delaware needs to be more vigilant in the future when it comes to detention barn enforcement as this is something the Jug doesn't need to have repeated.

A positive (if there is one) is the fact named trainers went to the judges in both cases.  Maybe the wall of silence has been breached.  Of course, let's see if these trainers will go to judges when they see something in a $15,000 race.  If so, then this year's Jugette and Jug may be marked down as a turning point.  If not, then this will be a blot not soon forgotten.