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HRU Feedback (2017-02-19)

February 19, 2017

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Milici and lack of transparency at Yonkers

I wanted to drop a short note to you regarding the poor excuse of a horseman, Tom Milici. Yonkers Raceway was very quick to let the public know that they were refusing entries from this individual and why they came to this decision (ongoing investigation as to who is/was really training his horses). I find it disturbing that without any further word to the public, they began accepting his entries (again). I guess they are not aware of the term transparency as without it, the sport will continue to suffer.

I called Yonkers Raceway and was told by the racing secretary that they are allowing him to enter horses that he or certain relatives own. He went on to say that no reporters reached out to him and that is why there was not any communication put out for public consumption.

— Robert Rosenberg

Jason Settlemoir responds to two HRU letters

I would like to respond to last Sunday, February 12th’s “Dante Returns Serve” and “Why does 0MTP mean 12MTP“.
Mr. Dante,

The date you are referring to — Thursday, January 26th — we had nine races where last year we had 10 races and our on-track handle was flat in comparison with one less race and we wagered over $1.3 million dollars on those nine races. We also had a group party of 80 people in Trotters enjoying the races another 30 in the Skyboxes for another group party. We agree with you that there is not as many people in the building as in the “Pegasus Restaurant 20 plus years ago,” but I believe you would be hard pressed to find any other racetrack in the country that had as many as we did on a Thursday night for live racing in the dead of winter. The product on a Thursday night includes large fields, an average of 9.66 starters per race, we understand that you as a customer want large fields and do our very best despite not having gaming at the Meadowlands. Hopefully one day (gaming at the Meadowlands) will become a realization, but for now this is our reality.

We try to reach out to each and every one of our customers. Just last fall we had a large marketing firm do focus groups to tell us what we can do better and what our customers want in addition to what we already give them. The research findings showed us ideas and how we can do better with our current customer and bringing in new customers, as well. Each quarter, since I have been here at the Meadowlands (November, 2012) we have small independent focus groups here at the Meadowlands and our OTW Winners Bayonne. Also, throughout the year we host dinners for our best players who use a players club card, this is similar to the approach we use in upstate New York in our casinos. I would like for you to be a guest at our next one and if you want to stop by my office to discuss ideas you have outside of those focus groups please stop by, my door is always open.

We certainly appreciate your support of the Meadowlands and I look forward to speaking with you about your ideas in person or you can always email me at jsettlemoir@playmeadowlands.com.

Mr. Hunter,

Your critique of harness racing and/or horse racing in general is not “petty and or trivial” when it comes to dragging past zero for post time. It drives me crazy as well! I generally set the post times here at the Meadowlands with the exception of last year. When I set the post times we avoid WEG (Woodbine and Mohawk harness) and we work extremely well together and most other harness tracks set post times off us. When it comes to thoroughbreds they generally do not watch harness tracks and post times, but I do try to watch them. WEG does not go on post time either. They have a typical drag, as well, but they came up with the idea to put the “countdown clock” up on TV when there is one minute to post time (after their drag). We liked this idea so we have adopted the same policy here at the Meadowlands.

Mr. Gural, when he first took over the Meadowlands, tried to go on post time and the handle dropped immediately 10 per cent or more. Mr. Gural and I met with one of the larger gamblers in Saratoga in the summer of 2012 and talked to him about post times and he told us that we needed to go past zero as much as possible to increase the handle. I am guessing that this has been ingrained in the customer for many years and they don’t wager until the very last minute or until the gate is rolling or horses are being loaded into the gate and they are not looking to change now. We agree it is a very frustrating process and I have spoken many times about the racetracks working together for post times and getting our races off on time. The unfortunate part is, while we agree with you, we would not be able to do this alone it would have to be an industry-wide initiative for the practical idea to work. We simply can’t afford at this time to lose any handle.

On a positive note, the night time tracks through TVG have reached out to one another to talk about post time coordination and the Meadowlands will be part of that discussion. I hope positive information will come out of this meeting and this can be the first step back to getting our races off on time. Thanks for your note and support and please feel free to email me jsettlemoir@playmeadowlands.com at any time.

— Jason M. Settlemoir / COO/GM New Meadowlands Racetrack/Winners Bayonne

Disgusted over the cheaters

I have been breeding horses for over 30 years and have seen many disturbing things that hurt the reputation of the sport. I have always taken pride in trying to breed the best I can and always hoped the racing field would be level for all in the business. It is absolutely disgusting how so many trainers find ways to cheat and steal everyone else’s money in the process. It takes a lot of money as we all know to breed a horse and then have someone prepare it for competition on the track. The cheating saga never ends and will eventually drag this sport down beyond repair. As long as the racing commissions hand out these embarrassing fines and little suspensions the cheating will continue and the sport will suffer more and more damage until is disappears. The greed of some will destroy harness racing. I am a very disgusted breeder and sometimes wonder why I don’t just get the hell out of this business for good.

— Jerry Giuliano / Solebury, PA

Awaiting The Curmudgeon’s corrections

In the Feb. 12 edition of HRU The Curmudgeon decided to invoke my name in one of his rants. I felt compelled to explain to this person that I’m not a breeder, owner, or track insider. I’m simply a fan and a bettor and a fairly young (33) one that hopes the sport will be around to enjoy for decades to come. I admit that I did not take into account the type of stakes race that was being battled over. However, my main point in comparing the NJ races to PA races was that was a nary any outrage anywhere that these very, very valuable races were cancelled and the now meaningless NJ races invoked a lawsuit because Mr. Taylor and his partners assumed they had a sure winner in what would certainly be another very short field. I did not take into account whether they paid into the race simply because I assumed they would get their payments back if the race was cancelled. Thus, in my mind and as a fan, the situations were similar. It’s too bad the other races in PA couldn’t warrant litigation since as a fan it’s a shame to see a major card lost. If The Crumudgeon wishes to debate or “correct” me he’s more than welcome. I welcome the challenge.

On other and better topics, I just wanted voice my agreement and support for Vic Dante. I agree with 99.9 per cent of all of his feedback letters. I find his opinions to be spot on.

As for the Gural Rule, it’s brutally difficult to debate. As a fan, obviously I want to see great horses compete against each other. However, I admit that I wouldn’t be happy if I was an owner and I was forced to bring my champion back when his value couldn’t be any higher. There is no doubt that the rule hurt Father Patrick and Captaintreacherous. There are definite merits to both sides of the argument and even as a fan I’m torn. The epic battles we saw last year between the big three were great, but proved that you DON’T need the rule. Mr. Gural greatest asset in this debate also accentuates one of harness racing biggest problems. It’s easy to ask for people such as Mr. Segal and Mr. Katz to keep their horses racing since they appear to win so many races and money. If they speak out, as they have done, they may come across to some fans and others as unsupportive of the industry’s future. However, their dominance highlights the huge problem of a lack of new owners in the sport. I was sitting outside on Breeders Crown night at the Meadowlands in November and watched Mr. Katz walk past me to winner’s circle over and over again (btw I would have loved to have been him!). For the most part, the ownership groups that win the majority of stakes races are all the same. With partnerships, it’s even more glaring. I remember a few years ago when a man (I believe his name was Jerry Silva) seemed to buy into or have a piece of almost every champion. As much as we need new and bigger bettors, we need more new owners too in order to survive.

Finally, I found it curious and frightening the size and quality of some of this winter’s racing. In Ohio, Northfield and Miami Valley are overflowing with horses. They are able to card 14 and 16 race cards. Dover Downs still has full cards. However, even with Plainridge, Maine tracks, Saratoga, Chester and Pocono closed Monticello, Yonkers and the Meadowlands all have varying degrees of short cards and short fields. Monticello cards eight races some days which is unreal. Also, they have a ton of six-horse fields. The Meadowlands has been hurt by running Thursdays. Between Mr. Gural’s ban on certain trainers and mediocre purses, this winter’s racing has been a disappointment, so far. Last year’s Saturday cards were exponentially better. Yonkers, however, is the most curious. Despite huge purses that dwarf every other track running now, Yonkers is only carding 10 races a night. At first, I thought it was because they were running Sundays and thus 6 days a week compared to 5. However, they haven’t run on Sundays since before the Super Bowl and nothing has changed. Some nights they card 11 races, but mostly 10 including Saturday (02/11) that featured an absurd five trots. What on Earth is going on? Are they conserving money for later? Is the purse account overdrawn? Are they trying to close the upstairs early to save electricity? Is it a ploy to get the 25 horseplayers left there to go play the slots? Who knows? Also, while I applaud Yonkers for the HD TV upgrade, two question remain. First, why on Earth does Drucker and his nightly co-host appear in a tiny center box while the rest of the TV screen in black? It’s like the size of a picture in picture box which also makes reading the exotic odds really annoying unless you are betting over an ADW or have the screen right in front of you. Second, when is the new finish line going to be turned on? I know it has something to do with NYSRWB and approval, but come on. By the time they flip the switch the pole will have rusted and the camera be obsolete.
Thanks for the time and I await The Curmudgeon’s corrections.

— Christopher Fenty / Mount Kisco, NY

RE: Five questions for USTA presidential candidates

I went to Monticello Raceway for live racing a couple of weeks ago and I found out the grandstand had been closed. I was ushered into a simulcast room with a bunch of tables and chairs about 12 people, six TVs and one teller. This was while they were actually conducting live racing on the track. This is a real snapshot of the dying-on-the-vine world of harness racing. Yonkers has higher purses than the handle of the race. I went to Chester last year for the first time and found out the grandstand is the actual couple of concrete rows of seating outside of the casino. Harness racing in America is a navy of small ships and one aircraft carrier. That aircraft carrier is The Meadowlands and it is sinking. Why that was not addressed by the candidates (full story here) is a mystery. If these gentlemen want to help harness racing they better address this issue head on.

— Mike Sprague / Bedminster, NJ

Three points and a challenge from NZ

I read HRU each week, despite being based near the bottom of our dear planet, in little far away New Zealand. What happens in USA, effects our industry here.

I make three points in regard to recent debates in HRU and one challenge

1. GURAL RULE. If, in NZ and /or Australia, we retired our best horses at the end of their three-year-old season, our industry would have disappeared many moons ago. Much of a fan base in this part of world is centered on identifiable champions, not flash-in-pan leading two-year-olds, who the race public (our clients) can forget very quickly. Three-year-olds are a better stepping stone, but still only a latter step to real FFA class races.

The fact Mr. Gural puts his love of harness racing and its future (as he sees it) ahead of his friendships and ahead of the wealthy status quo owners of stallions, I say speaks huge for his courage. It also suggests his thinking is with vigor, and that he has a youthful mind, often lost in older ‘age’. I salute you Mr. Gural.

Usually industries or people-led complexes wane or die, due to the fixed-minded attitude of the elder wealthy controlling the status quo. Does not harness racing suffer from such embedded elder leadership and friendships worldwide?

2. MARVIN KATZ. He wrote about his and his co-stallion owners alleged millions of dollars of stallion fee losses, without identifying how he assessed those losses. He also in some unidentified manner blamed all such losses on the Gural Rule.

What Mr. Katz failed to disclose was the millions of dollars USA stallion owners, like him, are ‘bleeding’ or reaping (or both) from the much smaller NZ and Australian harness marketplaces and breeders; year in and year out.

Last time estimated, the NZ dollar drain to USA stallion owners like Mr. Katz, was about $6 million per year. Sire Bettors Delight served over 300 mares each season in NZ in four of past seven seasons (and over 249 in the other three seasons). His 2016 fee was $16,000 payable on PT (not on live foal). One does not need to be mathematician to see the huge money flow going out of the NZ plughole, into, I say, greedy or dollar-insatiable USA stallion owners’ pockets.

What do people like Mr. Katz do in return for the rapidly dying NZ harness industry?

Overpriced stallion fees and unlimited stallion books in NZ, are the number one problem. These facts add to the huge challenge about our NZ harness industry being sustainable, or not, in coming years.

Every season, that approximate $6 million drain to USA stallion owners, needs to be re-found by NZ industry participants… and the result is a disappearing NZ breeder base. We have so little casino monies here to fund racing. We have so fewer races than in North America, and in NZ we race for far lower total stakes, and far lower stakes per horses raced.

Our NZ stakes per horse raced are about 30 per cent of North American levels, yet our stud fees of some USA owned stallions, thanks to men like Mr. Katz, are higher? Fair? Please ask yourself Mr. Katz, next time you are counting your millions.

3. INTERNATIONAL CHALLENGE. We have in NZ right now a super four-year-old, who I suggest could ‘kick the ass’ on the racetrack of not only the wonderful Wiggle It Jiggleit, but also any other FFA horse USA or Canada puts on the track against him. His name is Lazarus. He is a NZ-bred race-stallion.

I don’t simply suggest he’s great, cause I bred his granddam and great granddam. I suggest he is great cause his trainer says he is the best horse he has ever trained, and his trainer is rated at the top in NZ and Australia. This horse’s race record also suggests world greatness. As a four-year-old he won the richest race in NZ, the NZ Cup, again all aged horses… and he won by about 10 lengths, in a new world record. Sure that is a two-mile race, but this guy can sprint with the best older horses as well.

Now here is the challenge:

Some of Mr. Katz and his stallion owners could put up say a minimum of $13 million (just two years of NZ stallions’ fee income share to USA stallion owners) to attract Lazarus to USA to race all comers in a World Cup Series. The series would of course need to pay all return travel costs for all equine participants.

Imagine the media coverage. Imagine the race day fan interest and hype. Imagine the world social media and Internet coverage. It puts harness racing, in one step, up with thoroughbred’s richest races. The races would have to be on a track like the Meadowlands — no half-mile track conquests.

It can repeat some of the wonderful races of NZ’s aged Cardigan Bay (who came to USA when he was nearly a cripple) and the young Bret Hanover, and, if I recall correctly, also Overtrick.

My guess is the USA stallion owners are either too stingy with their easily-won flood of NZ semen fee income (an extra bonus to those stallion owners); or they will be concerned they will see another NZ horse come over and beat the best racehorses they have to offer.

To make it a super night of world harness racing, why not also offer a similar $13 million race series for the trotting all-comers.

The condition could be this trot series only proceeds if Bold Eagle comes over from EU — and again I suggest he will ‘tan the hide’ of any USA trotter available to race him. Incidentally, Bold Eagle also mixes sire duties with race duties, like Father Patrick tried to do.

No one said in any report I read that it was his ejaculations that slowed Father Patrick on the racetrack, as a four-year-old. Was it?

Maybe if such a great race series (perhaps four races of each gait over four or five weeks — the first three races of each gait of the series could be for $1 million each, and with two $10 million finales) are confirmed a year out from race series dates, Bold Eagle will come from EU, and also Lazarus from NZ. The running of such races could depend on a real foreign star.

Perhaps Always B Miki and Sweet Lou and the Captain T and Betting Line and Father Patrick and some three-year-old retired trotters will come out of retirement to try to win a slice of the respective $13 million for each series. Then Mr. Jimmy Takter’s urging that Always B Miki and Father Patrick were respectively the best ever pacer, and the best of the best trotters in USA, could be seriously tested.

The race series could be held in June or July, starting in 2018, so each stallion’s stud season in the northern hemisphere need not be affected, but the horses reputations on the racetrack could be lifted or gutted, which seems to me what Mr. Katz was, and is, really, really concerned about.

Did our beloved harness racing in USA not begin with roots of who can beat who? Not, how do I shield this horse from serious all-aged competition, cause I do not think he is really up to it?

Reading the repertoire between USA leaders in recent HRU, I doubt any of them, aside from Mr. Gural, would have the inclination and guts to stage such a daring and money-attractive world race series.

Come on. Prove me wrong Mr. Katz and Mr. Segal, and all those from Blue Chip and Hanover and Diamond and some other leading farms. Tell us you up to this challenge to American supremacy? I say the foreign horses will clean you up. What say you?

Why would you and your wealthy stallion owning colleagues not co-fund such a world race series challenge, Mr. Katz?

4. INTERNATIONAL EQUINE TRAVEL. One means of increasing international competition, and for USA racetracks increasing access to race horses, would be for some USA racetracks and/or USTA to co-fund the lease of say two second-hand planes, and fit them out for luxury equine travel, and employ pilot and crew.

We did this between USA and NZ back in the 1980s, and it worked really well back then. Leasing planes is easier than one might think.

This could become a once-a-month guaranteed return flight to/from NZ and Australia, and say a weekly between USA and EU, and say daily USA to Canada.

This could reduce the present actual cost per horse from NZ to USA, from about $20,000 one way travel, to about $4,000. In some situations, the $4,000 could also be sponsored, where a club wanted a horse to come race. If numbers initially were low, as they likely would be early on, the service would need sponsors, perhaps racetracks and the USTA; but in time, this should become self sufficient – and really open the USA door to more foreign horses coming to race in USA.

— David W Phillips / Heartland Farm, Pokeno, NZ

Possible name change

Our game can benefit from a redefined image at least for publicity and promotion purposes. Let’s call the sport North American Horse Racing instead of harness racing. It is potentially more interesting and sellable to concentrate on the horse than the harness. We don’t race harnesses we race horses.

Most participants know the horse and the harness are dependent on each other to obtain a maximum performance during race competition. Still, on the spectator side of the racetrack fence, putting emphasis on the horse rather than the harness has to be a good thing.

There are many more interesting stories about the heritage of racehorses and the evaluation of pedigrees than there are about changing from leather harness to synthetic ones. Actually, a study of the effect of overcheck bits, murphy blinds, ear plugs, driving bits, broom shadow rolls, head poles, etc might be fascinating. But the sport will be better served by focusing the prospective new participant’s attention on the horse’s role in the game instead of the harness.
If you think this is a silly idea you might be right. Still, how is what we are currently doing working out for us? Let’s hear it for NORTH AMERICAN HORSE RACING.

— Jim Reynolds / Watseka, IL

RE: Trey and poetry

Dear Trey. Thanks for recognizing my little ditty I knew a keen literary mind like yours wouldn’t be intimidated by a word like “existentially”. Maybe next time you should look for your judges somewhere else besides Hallmark.

All the best.

— Jerry Riordan / Halmstad, Sweden

Gural for commissioner

Harness racing ought to get a grip and beg Jeff Gural to be its commissioner!

Why? a) He’s smart. b) He’s a bettor. c) He cares about the sport. d) He’s got money. e) He’s got common sense.

Reading his 2/12/17 letter in HRU’s Feedback section, ought to be required reading for everyone who still cares!

It’s crunch time for our sport and everyone better recognize that harness racing is resting squarely on the balls of its ass — and nothing will change as long as the same lifers keep pissing and moaning about their genius plans to magically turn things around! When casinos find a way to legally unfetter itself, harness racing will be out the door like s— through a goose. But, as long as slot money keeps pouring in, harness racing will keep looking the other way. “Save for a rainy day? Naaaah. We’ll worry about tomorrow tomorrow, or, whenever it gets here.”

Try and imagine, for a just moment, how pissed off casinos must be, having to funnel its money into a sport that’s not drawing flies, nor, betting much, either.

What’s required is: 1) a comprehensive plan of action 2) the money necessary to implement such a plan. Oh, and, one other thing: a spirit of cooperation. Until everyone in the business finally recognizes that getting on the same page — in a true spirit of camaraderie — is a must, then there soon will be no sport of harness racing left to save.

Harness racing must share a common mindset, pool its resources and ask Jeff Gural to please lead the charge.

— Steve Ross / Medford, NJ

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