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Sunday, December 4, 2016

Of Drones and Blind Men

On Friday, the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario conducted a trial using drones to watch what the drivers were doing during qualifiers at Western Fair Raceway.  The purpose of the experiment was to see if using drones would aid in judging races.  While there was a problem with data transmission, the test shows promise.  Further tests will be done with the thoroughbreds and quarter horses before a decision will be made as to whether or not to use drones on wagering events.

If used on a regular basis, would drones improve the judging of races for gamblers and owners alike?  It is questionable.  Make no mistake, having an above view would give judges unprecedented access which would show more clearly whether or not a horse interfered with another horse as well as other infractions but what good is all using drones if the judges don't know or won't enforce the rules as written?  Until judges are enforcing the rules as expected, drones would be like putting an expensive pair of glasses on a blond person; it won't help.

Maybe a drone would have been helpful Friday afternoon at Freehold in the 6th race where the judges disqualified #6 Brickyard Classic from first to third for interference to #4 Schoolhouse Rock.  The judges claimed Brickyard Classic struck the wheel of Schoolhouse Rock near the half.  I must confess, I don't see it but then who knows what the judges saw, after all gamblers were spent watching six minutes of dead air before an announcement was made.  Wouldn't it have made sense to have the customers see what the judge were looking at?  Did the judges make the right call?  I would be interested in hearing your opinions of the decision.

By now, you have read or heard of Rob Key's appeal to reorganize the USTA in Harness Racing Update.  It is no secret I feel the USTA does a good job, all things considered.  True, they are going past their mandate of being the breed registry with little funding for all they do, but then who else is going to do what needs to be done?  After all, if members are complaining how much they are paying the USTA for its services and programs, how forthcoming are they going to be to pay for programs managed by other groups?

Sixty directors are too many, especially with their individual parochial interests; wouldn't it be better if the tracks, breeders, and horsemen each selected two or three of their brethren to represent their interests on a reconstituted board?  Shouldn't the board have owner representatives (it should have gambler representatives as well, but who are we kidding)?  Even if the board was streamlined, unless they are willing to acknowledge the sport depends on horseplayers as much as it does slot revenues, they will not enact steps which are customer friendly.

I will be the first one to acknowledge there is a need for fresh blood on the board as directors seem to be appointed for life, which means new ideas fail to get the proper airing, if aired at all.  However, I learned at a recent at a USTA district meeting the problem is not the fact 'old timers' don't want to relinquish their positions; it's they are forced to remain a director because none of the younger members want to become directors.  This is not a problem unique to harness racing, Gen Xers and Millenials seem not to want to volunteer their time, perhaps because they feel too pressed for time.  Until younger members are willing to step up, it will be hard to get new ideas addressed.

This doesn't mean one throws their hands up and say 'Why bother?'.  Things worth having are worth fighting for so it is important to keep on plugging.  Maybe things have to get worse before people are willing to change, hopefully not.  One thing is for certain, there needs to be someone special to come forth either from within or outside the industry who has the gravitas to get the various interests to see the need to make changes, otherwise things will continue on its current course and continued decline.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Can't Beat the ADW Experience

Over at there is an interesting column titled "A Funny Thing Happened on the way to the ADW" and it highlights some of the reasons why it is better to bet with an ADW when at the track, something which is the bane of most tracks.  After all, tracks earn a pittance on those wagers as compared to wagering through the windows at the track.  Here are several of those reasons:

  • Don’t have to stand behind a guy buying $40 worth of 10-cent Superfectas
  • Can wait until the last minute without worrying about being shut-out
  • Don’t have to stand in line again to cash
  • Can cancel your bet with a couple of clicks
  • Rebates!

While the column talks about people using their phones to wager at the track, it could have just as easily been titled "Reasons Why it is Better to Stay Home and Play the Horses" and it highlights a big problem racetracks have to deal with, one admittedly they will be unable to overcome.  Racetracks can't compete with ADWs when it comes to the wagering experience, the only difference is the ability to see the horses 'up close'.  Unfortunately, for most gamblers, after they've seen the races live a couple of times, nothing beats the convenience of wagering from home.

So if racing were to cede wagering to the ADWs what is racing to do?

Racing needs to change the funding source for purses.  The only way this can be done is to form their own (or in partnership) ADW so they are able to keep a larger portion of the wagering dollar which up to now has been given away to the existing ADWs.  I have talked ad nauseam about this recently; just refer to my recent columns for more about this.

So what does one do with the racetrack now that you concede the gamblers to the ADWs?  Time to hold festival-type racing; where you appeal to the fans instead of gamblers.  Will there still be wagering?  Of course there will but it will be done at a much lower level so you would downsize your tote operations accordingly.  In fact, with the exception of some tellers, you would farm the wagers to an ADW to operate as the hub.

As to the on-track action, racing would be a piece of the entertainment puzzle.  Since most of the wagering is done off-track at ADWs, why are we sticking to our 15 minute (plus crawl time) between races formula  With everyone now acting as their individual OTB facility, the amount of time between the races can be reduced to no more than 5 to 7 minutes between races (perhaps longer on major stakes days).   Once a race is official, head back to the paddock and send the next field out for their score and then directly to the gate and repeat.  There is no reason while a 12 race card can't be completed in two hours.  Conduct other events before and after the racing program to complete the entertainment package for the day if you are not part of a racino; alternative gaming options would complete the day otherwise.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Trainer Trends

Here’s a look at how the top 20 trainers are faring through Monday, November 14 as compared with their stats through that date in 2015.

Ron Burke tops the earnings list, again, but he has 91 fewer wins—10% less—and is short more than $2.8 million—13%. He made it past the $20 million mark for the fourth consecutive year on Monday night, Nov 14. At the close of the 2015 season his money was off by 12%--$3.4 million. He finished 2015 almost $12 million ahead of Trainer of the Year Jimmy Takter and is $10 million up on him right now. Burke’s number of starts dropped 4% between 2014 and 2015 and that number is down 3% since a year ago this time. Hannelore Hanover, Southwind Frank and Check Six have all been big time check cashers, but Frank didn’t dominate his division as expected, and Mission Brief missed the season due to injury. Burke is the leading trainer at The Meadows, The Meadowlands, Hoosier Park and in the NYSS. He’s number two at Harrah’s, three at Pocono and five at Yonkers and Scioto Downs. Hall of Fame anybody?

Hall of Famer Jimmy Takter, who was also second at this point last year, is off by 18 wins and more than $2.5 million—20%. His UTRS is up from 0.339 to 0.363. He trains the new world record holder, Always B Miki, as well as Ariana G, Pure Country and Bar Hopping. Last year his six wins on Breeders Crown night, as well as the 11 other checks his starters presented him with, locked down his year-end honors. Perhaps Miki makes up for the lack of anything like that? Regardless, both Burke and Takter are off their recent highs and the Trainer of the Year award is up in the air.

Rene Allard, who unlike Burke and Takter grinds out most of his money on the overnight circuit, is back at number three. He has 11 fewer wins than at this point a year ago but his earnings are up by 9%--more than $439,000. Allard is number one at Yonkers and number two at Pocono Downs.

Tony Alagna is fourth again. Last year he made the jump from seven to four and has held on to that spot. Tony has 11 fewer wins but his money is up by more than $439,000—9%. His colt Racing Hill is number two on the all-horse earnings list. His starts were down 8% between 2014 and 2015 and are down 9% since a year ago: less is more.

Ake Svanstedt, who was at nine in mid-November of 2015, is at five. His wins are up by 20% and his money is 28% better--$1.2 million. His UTRS is off from 0.305 to 0.293. Ake moved up nine spots to number eight last year and continues to advance in NA. Resolve was his top performer. He is number eight at The Meadowlands, seven at Pocono and five in the NYSS.

Erv Miller, who dropped eight spots to number 11 last year, is up five to number six from mid-November of 2015. He only has one more win but his earnings are up by 23%. Miller trains BC winner Someomensomewhere.

Linda Toscano, the trainer of world champion Walner, jumped nine spots to number seven. She shows 19 more wins and 32% more money—a million dollars. Linda is second in the NYSS and fifth at The Meadowlands.

 Chris Oakes stepped up seven spots to number eight. The trainer of Luck Be Withyou and Homicide Hunter has 73 more wins and is up a million dollars—30%. Oakes is the leading trainer at Pocono Downs, where he forms a dynamic duo with leading driver George Napolitano Jr. He’s number six at Harrah’s. His UTRS has risen from an impressive 0.414 to a dominant 0.441.

Julie Miller is down two spots to number nine. She has a dozen more wins but is short $195,000—6%. She finished in sixth in 2014 and seventh last year. The trainer of Sutton is fourth in the NYSS and seventh at both The Meadowlands and Harrah’s.

Jeff Bamond Jr fell from five to ten. His earnings are down 30%--$1.2 million. His crack group of older pacing mares is showing their age and mileage: he got more than $900,000 out of Venus Delight and Anndrovette last year, but the pair has accounted for only a fraction of that in 2016. The former was recently sold in Harrisburg. The toughest mare on the planet, Krispy Apple, and open mainstay Mach It So are still going strong.

Richard Moreau, Canada’s Trainer of the Year the last three years, jumped three spots to number 11. He has eight fewer wins but his earnings are up 11%--more than $296,000. Moreau, who recently recorded his 5,000 win, is the leading trainer on the WEG circuit and was number four in the Ontario Sire Stakes this year.

Gilbert Garcia-Herrera, who was at six a year ago and finished 2015 there, has dropped six spots to twelve. He has made 250 fewer starts this year. He has 120 fewer wins—down 40%--and is short $1.4 million—37%. Gilbert is the leading trainer at Harrah’s, fourth at Pocono and sixth at Yonkers.

Richard Banca moves up seven spots to number 13. He has 17 more wins and is ahead $504,000—10%. Banca grossed under a million dollars in seven of the eight years prior to 2015, when he blossomed at Yonkers Raceway.

Brian Brown dropped five spots to number 14. His win total is off by 20% while his money is down 30%--a million dollars. He’s number four at Scioto Downs. Color’s A Virgin and Lost For Words lost their way in 2016, however Downbytheseaside looms on the horizon.

Casie Coleman, who reduced her starts by 58% between 2012 and 2015, moves up seven spots to number 15. The trainer of LBJ and Cup winner Betting Line only shows one more win, but her earnings increased by 21%--$488,000. Her UDRS increased from 0.306 to 0.423. She was number four back in 2014.

Thomas Milici, 61, who never won more than 45 races or $305,000 prior to 2016, continues to dazzle us at Yonkers Raceway. He has accumulated eight times as many wins and eight times as much money as he did in all of last year.

John Butenschoen, who turned all his young stock into gold, leaped from 28 to 17. His wins are up 19% while his earnings are 31% ahead of one year ago. PASS champ Giveitgasandgo and NYSS champ Funknwaffles are a couple of his standouts.

Chris Beaver stepped up 14 spots to number 18. His wins are up 33% and his earnings 30%--more than $637,000. He has Moonshiner Hanover, Muscle Up The Goal and Il Sogno Dream, among others.

Number 19 Clyde Francis went from 25 wins at this point last year to 56 now. His earnings are up 5%. Wiggle It Jiggleit accounts for half his wins and 80% of his 2016 money. He had no earnings as a trainer in 2014.

Number 20 Jim Dailey wasn’t in the top 50 last year. The Ohio trainer has nine more wins than he had in all of 2015 and he has earned more than $2 million this year—45% more than in all of last year. The resurgent Ohio Sire Stakes program has been a godsend for him. Dailey collaborated with Josh Sutton to win three of the $250,000 Ohio SS finals with Rose Run Spanky, Scotch McEwan and My Tweed Heart.

Joe FitzGerald

Friday, November 18, 2016

Driver Trends As The Season Winds Down

This is a comparison of where the top 25 drivers stood on Monday Nov 14, 2016 as compared with where they were on Nov 14, 2015.

Yannick Gingras, the unanimous choice for Driver of the Year in 2014, is on top of the money tree, just as he was last year. The number one option for leading trainers Ron Burke and Jimmy Takter has 21 fewer wins than a year ago and his earnings are down $139,189—about 1%. His UDRS is 0.324 as opposed to 0.349 last year. He has dominated the senior mare divisions with Hannelore Hanover and Lady Shadow.

Last year’s DOY David Miller is number two in earnings, just as he was on Nov 14, 2015. He has 23 more wins and his money is up by 5%--$558,173. Miller, who has prospered after taking last winter off, has seen his UDRS rise from 0.278 to 0.325. The Buckeye, who benefits from his association with world champion Always B Miki, appears to be the favorite to repeat as Driver of the Year.

Four time DOY Tim Tetrick is in third, just like last year. He has 102 more wins than he had at this point in 2015 and his earnings are up 3.5%--$388,328. He’s number two at The Meadowlands and Harrah’s. Tim will be looking to dominate next year’s sophomore colt divisions with Walner and Huntsville.

Scott Zeron is having a career year: he moved from eleventh at this point last year to number four. The driver of Triple Crown winner Marion Marauder has seen his win total jump by 5% and his money increase by 22%--$1,866,372 more than he had in mid-November of 2015. Scott was the leading driver at The Meadowlands this year.

Jason Bartlett, who topped the earnings list for the first half of the year, is in fifth, one spot lower than a year ago. His win total is up by 70—12.5%--but his money is off by 12%--$1,107,900. The leading driver at Yonkers Raceway has upped his UDRS from 0.347 to 0.371. He’s number four in the NYSS.

Brett Miller, who got off to a slow start and was in twelfth at the halfway point, is in sixth, three spots better than last year. Brett’s UDRS is about the same and he has just two fewer wins then a year ago, but his earnings are up by $491,863, or 7%. Racing Hill and Pure Country have helped account for that.

Matt Kakaley, who was at 13 a year ago, and finished the year there, is in seventh. He has 23 more wins and $963,459, or 11.6%, more in earnings. Matt’s UDRS is up from 0.220 to 0.236. In addition to being one of Ron Burke’s go to drivers, he’s number four at Pocono Downs and was the runner up in the NYSS.

Our newest Hall of Famer Brian Sears is at eight, down from five a year ago. His win total is off by 16%--54—and he’s more than 18% short money wise--$1,608,715.  Sears has tried to augment his regular gig at Yonkers—where he’s second to Bartlett—with success on the Grand Circuit, but the wins have been hard to come by this year. Bee A Magician is back, but most of the stakes dollars have dried up at this point.

Last year’s dash champ Aaron Merriman, who is a shoe in to repeat, has moved up from twelfth to ninth. His win total is off by four while his money is up by $141,435, or 2%. He holds a 100 win lead over George Napolitano, who loses Pocono Downs from his calendar very shortly. Aaron is number two at Northfield and in third at The Meadows.

Corey Callahan, who just joined the 5,000 club, is at number ten, down from six last year. His win total is off by 33% from mid-November of 2015 and his earnings are down by 24%, or more than $2 million. Corey’s UDRS is down to 0.264 from 0.319. He’s working off of 10% fewer starts.

George Napolitano Jr, who is second on the dash list, is at eleven, down from seven. His win total is off by 16%--122—and his money is down by 17%--$1.3 million. George’s UDRS dropped from a heady 0.403 to 0.351. He’s the leading driver at Harrah’s and Pocono Downs.

Sylvain Filion, the top driver on the WEG circuit, moved up five spots to number 12. He has three fewer wins, but his earnings are up by $760,008—13.5%. Sylvain was the leading driver in the Ontario Sire Stakes, finishing more than a million dollars ahead of second place James MacDonald.

Chris Page jumped ten spots to number 13. He has 110 more wins and his money is up 27%--$1.4 million. He was number two at Scioto Downs and Miami Valley. The Ohio Sire Stakes and Ron Burke’s stock were both key factors in his success.

Mark MacDonald, who recently won the Breeders Crown with Obrigado, like Page, jumped ten spots, to number 14. His win total is up 30% and his earnings have increased by 29%--$1.5 million. His UDRS is up to 0.240 from 0.198. Mark is number six at Yonkers Raceway and was number three in the NYSS.

Trace Tetrick, the leading driver at Hoosier Park, winning at a 21% clip, moves up from 20 to 15. He had 62 more wins—up 14%--and increased his earnings by $664,032—more than 12%. Trace’s UDRS dropped from 0.304 to 0.246. Freaky Feet Pete didn’t have the sort of year many expected him to.

Jordan Stratton, who was very successful in the Levy and Matchmaker series, stepped up eleven spots to number 16. His win total is up 30% and his money has risen by 27%--$1.3 million. Stratton is number five at Yonkers.

Marcus Miller made a giant 15 spot leap to number 17. Marcus is number six at Pocono Downs and number eight at Harrah’s. His win total is up by better than 33% while his money has risen by 32%--$1.6 million. He won the Breeders Crown with Someomensomewhere.

George Brennan, the number three driver at Yonkers Raceway, has fallen ten spots to number 18. His win total is off 30% and his earnings are off by 29%. His UDRS is down to 0.257 from 0.276. George, who has made fewer than three dozen starts away from Yonkers, has driven in 11% fewer races this year.

Dan Dube is another Yonkers regular who fell hard—from nine to nineteen. He has 55 fewer wins and is short $2 million. Dube is number four at the Hilltop track.

Ronnie Wrenn Jr, who won the dash title in 2013 and 2014, moved up one spot to twenty. His wins are down 17%--115—but his earnings have stepped up by $353,256. The leading driver at Northfield, he made a strong showing in the Ohio Sire Stakes.

Josh Sutton, the leading driver at Scioto Downs and Miami Valley, moved ahead 13 spots to number 21. He has 33 more wins and his money is up by 30%--$1.4 million. Like Page, Merriman and Wrenn, he has benefitted from the new and improved Ohio Sire Stakes program.

All time dash leader Dave Palone dropped from 16 to 22. The top driver at The Meadows is down 61 wins and $516,202—12.5%.

Aussie Andrew McCarthy stepped up five spots to number 23. He’s number seven at Pocono, eight at Harrah’s and eleven at The Meadowlands. His win total is up 25% while his money rose 12.5%--$516,202.

John DeLong, who was second at Hoosier Park, jumped 23 spots to 24. He has 151 more wins—up 41.5%--and more than 42% more money—up $1.6 million. His UDRS rose from 0.266 to 0.300.

Jim Morrill Jr, the top driver in the NYSS by more than double, dropped eleven spots to 25. He had 89 more wins and saw his UDRS rise from 0.388 to an eye opening 0.425, but his earnings were down by $1.4 million.

Joe FitzGerald

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

A Word from Our Moderator

There are times articles on VFTRG stir passionate discussion; I know that.  Still, one of the principles of this blog is for the conversation to be civil and respectful.  It makes for a more pleasant reading experience for those who visit.  

Recently, there has been discussions which have, produced 'passionate' discussion.  Discussion which has caused some to cross over the line in their comments.  Worse yet, it has caused me to censor the comments which required me to either reject the comments and in a few occasions, edit which is a shame as some otherwise thoughtful opinions find themselves on the virtual cutting floor.

I realize there are some topics and personalities which invoke strong feelings but as strong as opinions may be, there is no place for name calling or personal attacks.  VFTRG has and will always be a community of civil discourse.  For those who feel the need for more 'colorful' conversation, there are other venues available be it harness racing or American politics.

Starting today, there will no longer be edited comments.  The comments will meet the standards of VFTRG or they will be rejected.

Thank you for your understanding.