HRU Feedback

RE: “For the Love of the Game”

Good to see Surrealist get wider recognition for his 19-win season (story here).
As Dana Getto and Bob Roberts mentioned, low purses and handle are a current reality here, yet Nova Scotian horses, drivers and other industry participants have long made their mark in the larger industry.

Truro Raceway, Inverness Raceway and Northside Downs are places where “the love of the game” flourishes, all well worth visiting.

Truro’s track photographer Kyle Burton and I created a video (video link here), celebrating Nova Scotia’s grassroots and elite level contributions to the sport. As the title states, “champions start here”.

— Melissa Keith / Lr. Sackville, NS

RE: Sending harness execs to the track

Dean Towers wrote an excellent piece on “Sending a harness executive to the track” (story here).

It clearly shows that in this age of racinos that most any new customer that happens to check out the live horse racing for the first time, would just about walk away from all the confusion and that has happened with a lot to regular bettors too.

Post drags, high takeouts, inability to see horses up close (like in t-bred races), lack of live tellers and forcible use of self-serve betting machines without assistance, all add up to making the “experience” one that would chase away new customers.

Casino executives, for the most part, care only about one thing and one thing only, EBITA (earnings before interest, taxes, and amortization)… how much profit can they make for shareholders? Casino mostly make big profits from their games and for the most part, racing does not.

They understand that if not for racing there would be no slots, but that does not supersede EBITA. If something does not make money for the company, change it to make it profitable or cut it out ASAP.

It is absolutely a proven fact that casino fans can and will enjoy horse racing and if made easy enough, will wager on them. But they have to been hand-held at the start and will then catch on. Everyone loves the majesty of horse racing.

We need to bring the horse to the people. Let them see them up close before the go on the track like the t-breds do. We need to take small groups on mini tours of the race paddock, meet a trainer and driver for five minutes trackside, get a ride in the starting gate. Show them how great our people are and then they will feel more comfortable about wagering, telling others, sharing on social media how much fun they had, etc.

And that should go for all racino executives and all employees too!

— Steven Wolf / Coral Springs, FL

Clueless judges?

Race 10 at the Meadowlands last night (Jan. 14) exemplifies some of what Towers has written about.

I will not write a book about what happened and did NOT happen in the race. Looking at the replay yourself should be self explanatory (replay link here).

I stood at the Meadowlands with four other very seasoned handicappers/gamblers, and what the judges would not do in over 10 minutes seemed obvious to people with a combined 100+ years of watching and wagering experience. And to have no explanation other than “the 1 horse drifted causing the 2 to interfere with the 10” is simply not enough and incorrect.

Try showing that replay to aspiring fans of the sport, and then explain the rules beyond the basics to them. Then ask them what they think the proper decision should be.

Or better yet, show that replay to five sets of judges at five different tracks. I’ll bet you get several different decisions.

Nothing is more infuriating to a bettor than uneven judging, and that’s exactly what we get.

How five guys who know racing can see an infraction exactly the same way, yet have three judges say it is something different is beyond my comprehension.

Watching bad racing that should be at Freehold be transferred to East Rutherford is one thing. To watch clueless judging impact a result is quite another.

Maybe the judges can invite me to their office and we can look at it as many times as they did last night, and I can show them that the “infraction” that they took no action on happened after the interference, not before.

Yet another symptom of lack of interest and lack of supervision.

Who do these judges answer to?

— Vic Dante / Belleville, NJ

Two suggestions

I very much enjoy reading diverse opinions on horse racing. I have worked at racetracks in New Jersey for around 15 years. However, I have noticed a very obvious phenomenon. Bettors who win money at the racetrack almost never complain about how the races are run. However, fans who lose money often find multiple things to complain about. The trainer is a drug merchant, the jockey or driver held the horse back, the field was too small, etc.

Recently, I have been tweeting with some harness racing experts on some interesting topics. Conventional wisdom has always been that the size of purses dictates the amount of handle. However, results from Yonkers and the Meadowlands the last few years has shown that might not be true. The experts also claim that slots at the tracks are doing more harm than good to the sport. I would think that no track operator, owner, driver, trainer, or jockey would agree with that idea.

I would offer two suggestions which would make Harness Racing Update more interesting. There should be a section relating to handicapping ideas. This would be helpful to both new bettors and the less than professional handicappers. I would also suggest more articles on the lesser known drivers in the sport. No disrespect to drivers such as Tetrick, Sears, Gingras, Miller, etc. But, they have been written about hundreds of times. I’m much more interested in what a less established driver has to do to get mounts at different tracks during a week.

— Allen Gatto / Roselle Park, NJ

In support of Billy Dobson

A number of years back I was at Yonkers Raceway and saw a young driver bring home the Daily Double (1st and 2nd race). Watching the races, I was impressed by the way this young man drove the horses.

I made a mental note to watch him as time went by. He then disappeared from Yonkers for a while and then he started driving at Monticello where in a short time he became the leading driver.

His name is Billy Dobson. After some time he began to race mostly at Saratoga Harness and again became one of their leading drivers. He always seemed to get a little more out of his drives and has become successful. He is good on long shots as well as favorites, racing on the front end or taking cover trips.

I’ve been following him over the years, a few times he has come to the Meadowlands during the winter months and picks up a few drives here and there. Mostly he would be driving long shots and not many favorites. However he would hit the board with some real nice place and show prices.

Last Friday night I looked over the entries for the Meadowlands and didn’t see Billy Dobson’s name in any races. Turns out he drove in the fourth with an 85-1 shot and finished eighth. But, he had another drive in the 11th with a 40-1 shot, Long Story Short. He wins and pays $82. And I’m sitting on my couch watching the Rangers stink up the Garden losing to the Toronto Maple Leafs! My list of blown opportunities continues to grow. What else is new?

I’m wondering why doesn’t he get more drives at the Meadowlands. There are quite a few new drivers this year, but I don’t see his name often in the entries. This shouldn’t come as a big surprise to anyone but this young man can drive. In Oct, 2014 he drove his 3,000th winner.

I feel there is no reason he couldn’t compete there. Granted it’s the best driver colony in the country. Corey Callahan, Jim Marohn Jr. and Scott Zeron are young drivers doing well. Billy certainly fits into this group. Maybe Billy doesn’t want to drive here year round. That could be his personal choice, but as far as talent is concerned he’s proven he can make the jump up.

There has to be some trainers out there with decent stock willing to give him a chance. There no reason he couldn’t drive high priced stakes horses. I feel you won’t be disappointed.

— Billy Hartenstine / Farmingdale, NY

Fair start pole

When I saw the subject of Brett Sturman’s HRU column on Jan. 20 (How fair is the fair start pole?) I had a feeling I would be writing a letter to the editor and here I am, though for a different reason. I agree with Sturman’s assessment of wagering should close before the field is assembled so every horseplayer is given a fair chance. Alas, this will likely never happen due to horsemen and track operators’ objections.

These two parties will object because they fear a drop in handle because the whales like wagering at the last possible seconds to see if they can take advantage of any late clue to a race’s running such as a horse leaving or not, as well as the possibility of a horse going off-stride before the gate. To be honest, it is a legitimate complaint, assuming these gamblers will not adjust to the new normal. Quite honestly, the idea of an even playing field with the other gamblers is one the whales do not relish. Hence, while this proposal is in principle correct, it will sadly not see the light of day.

At least fans of Canadian racing have an advantage over American punters where there is no such thing as a fair start (other than at Hoosier Park) and it will never happen. A few years ago in New Jersey, there was a proposal for a fair start and while the racing commission agreed to formulate a rule, it took them two years for it to happen (of course, if it was something the tracks wanted, it would have been formulated much quicker), only for the rule change to be rejected at the final hearing, no doubt at the urging of horsemen and track operators worrying about the impact on their bottom line.

The sad truth is while racing commissions are supposed to protect the public’s interests, their interests lie with horsemen and track operators. If they are united against a rule change, the racing public has no chance. This is why each racing commission should have at least one horseplayer on their board to represent the public’s interest. Would this change things, I don’t know but at least it would be a start.

— Allan Schott / Mahwah, NJ

Pelling was spot on

Recently, you had an article about the great trainer Brett Pelling’s eminent return to harness racing. What I found particularly interesting was Pelling’s comments about how to improve the sport. He had two suggestions. One was for every driver to use the same type of sulky. The other was to try and control the way driver’s lean all way back in the bike.

I interviewed Pelling some years ago and found him to be articulate, smart, and frank. His suggestions about these two factors are spot on. Two of the main reasons why the sport has lost popularity is low payoffs and boring one-dimensional races. These problems are more pronounced on half- and five-eighth mile tracks, which are dominated by short-priced leavers from inside posts. But the racing could be much better on the bigger tracks, as well.

If every driver in the race leans way back, it makes it difficult for a horse to rally from behind, because it extends the lengths-behind margin by several lengths. Here is a column written by Jay Bergman of the Daily Racing Form that addresses this in detail (story here).

As for the bikes, Pelling recommended something like the Jerald Sulky. The Jerald is a wood sulky that is not off-centered. The modern day bikes are steel, aerodynamic, and off-centered. As some of you know, I’ve long been an advocate for a wood bike that is not off-centered. The sport would benefit greatly by using a sulky that’s similar to the ones that were used when the races were much more exciting than they are now.

With the speed bias, half-mile and five eighth track racing has become too predictable. The exciting three- and four-wide backstretch brushes are rare because the horses can’t rally wide into the wicked third quarters set by the pacesetter. On some nights, almost every race is won by either the pacesetter or the pocket horse. If someone goes to the harness track for the first time and sees a bunch of wire-to-wire winners that pay $3, why would he come back? You have to have off the pace winners.

There’s another problem: every time a new generation of sulkies comes out, one or two drivers have the new bike. This creates an unfair advantage which can last for several weeks, or months, until every other driver buys one of the new bikes. Traditional handicapping goes out the window as you have to try to figure out, not which horse is best, but which horse has the best bike. It’s crazy.

Pelling also suggested that the sulkies be colored to match the program number, which is a brilliant idea. Imagine, every driver has the same bike, no more guessing. And, horses win from second and third over again. We can only dream, I guess, because the people who manage the tracks don’t seem to get it.

— Bob Pandolfo / Northampton, PA