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Feedback (2017-05-07)

May 7, 2017

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Addendum to letter about euthanized yearling

**Editor’s note: In last Sunday’s Feedback section: (2017-04-30 Feedback) we published a letter from Brenda and Paul Walker, Jim Ruhl and Barry Klages entitled “Something to think about when purchasing a yearling at auction.”

The letter failed to disclose that the horse Free Speed was insured. Brenda Walker confirmed to HRU on Saturday that Free Speed was insured and the claim was paid in April. Free Speed was euthanized in January.

More on euthanized yearling

This is in reference to the letter to the editor in the April 30 edition of HRU (2017-04-30 Feedback) by Paul & Brenda Walker, Jim Ruhl and Barry Kluges.

I feel a great deal of empathy and sympathy towards to you on the loss of your colt. This is a very risky business and one certainly hates to be defeated before one actually begins.

I can understand your feelings of, if not anger, then certainly disappointment regarding the way you perceive that your situation was handled.

At the end of the letter, you ask in effect “What’s a poor buyer to do?”

In my opinion, the sales company should be pretty much a non-factor in the discussion. They are merely a conduit in the sale. Their situation is covered by the terms and conditions.

Different farms or different breeders might have reacted in a multitude of ways to the buyers — the best from the purchasers vantage point, being refunding the money and the worst ignoring the situation and hoping that it disappears. There are however, several possible in between points which I will not delve into here.

But this is not about the consignor.

What can the buyer do?

(1) He, she or they should do their due diligence as thoroughly as possible. Most farms now allow their yearlings to be x-rayed and/or scoped prior to the sale. One’s response to those that don’t allow these procedures to be done, should, in my opinion, be to strike their yearlings from one’s possibility list. Absent doing this prior to the sale, such procedures should be done as close to the end of the sale as possible. This is now actually done by many trainers today. Not only does it tell them of any possible pre-existing conditions, but perhaps more importantly it makes them aware of any issues such as immaturity in certain areas which will help to guide their training regimen. I can almost guarantee you that a breeder will be more receptive to such an issue a few days after the sale than he would be a few months later.

(2) Insurance. At the risk of sounding crass, if you can’t afford the risk, especially on a higher priced yearling, then maybe you should have it insured from the drop of the hammer. I feel reasonably confident that if this colt had been insured, the large monetary loss incurred, although probably still somewhat significant, care and veterinary costs being what they are, would not have been near the end total. (Editor’s note: the letter writer was unaware the yearling was insured when he wrote his letter, but his point was worth mentioning as advice for others).

This is obviously a situation where there are no winners. I truly feel for you folks, not only for the large monetary loss, but judging from the tone of your letter the emotional loss incurred from losing this lovely colt.

— Murray Brown / Hanover, PA

Hunterton on euthanized yearling

This letter is in response to the letter titled: Something to think about when purchasing a yearling at auction.

This letter was about a group of yearling buyers who recently bought a yearling in a select sale. The vet statements indicated that the yearling had a preexisting condition found two weeks after purchase that was career ending and that forced the new buyers to eventually euthanize the horse.

As the owners of Hunterton Farm and Hunterton Sales Agency, it is always disturbing to hear about these situations.
Breeders and consignors have an obligation to protect the yearling buyers.

Over the years, Hunterton Sales Agency has taken many yearlings back in similar circumstances or we were able to work out an amicable solution. And we know we are not alone. Many of our competitors also take back yearlings when problems like this arise. It is the right thing to do. On the other hand, although we stand behind the horses that we breed, consignors cannot force their clients who have bred their horses to take yearlings back due to pre-existing conditions. It is clearly stated in the catalog that the yearling sells “as is”.

So, as consignors, we can refuse to sell for those breeders who we find won’t stand behind their horses in the future. Luckily for us at Hunterton, we have breeders who understand how important it is to protect our buyers and in doing so our industry.

So buyers have to be aware of who owns the yearlings they are bidding on. Buyers also have a responsibility to protect the integrity of our industry. More than a few yearling purchasers have attempted to take advantage of sellers and consignors by attempting to return a horse after six or more months in training, stating that there is an issue that would not have been pre existing.

We have witnessed here in central Kentucky the thoroughbred industry struggle with this problem when sellers won’t attempt to work out a solution. Consequently, the breeders in that industry then must spend extravagant amounts of money x-raying and scoping every yearling prior to sale to insure their product. Even the smallest defect, even if it will never affect their racing career, is cause for the breeder to get such a major reduction in value that they will eventually buy their yearling back to prevent a major loss financially.

The standardbred industry has always been known as a family-oriented business. Integrity and simply “doing the right thing” has been our industry hallmark. We at Hunterton believe that a majority of standardbred people want to do the right thing. It is essential that we keep it that way.

— Steve Stewart / Hunterton Farm

Euthanized yearling, part 3

I read the letter with interest that the Walkers put forth on the yearling purchased. Many years ago, I purchased an (expensive at the time) Balanced image colt. He was a beauty, but always seemed to struggle eating. Eventually we found he had damage to the back of his tongue, way in deep, that affected steering and many other issues. We told the consignor and he laughed, ‘Yeah, he got it almost cut off. Should be alright.’

Since then we x-ray every potential purchase, ask the owners directly if there have been any issues, and most importantly buy from reputable farms.

— Paul Van Camp / Port Perry, ON

Live stream impacting handle?

I do bet the races through TVG. However, I refuse to spend extra money to watch the live stream from the Meadowlands. Since that policy was instituted in 2016 the track handle has dropped by quite a bit. When customers complained last year, they were met with derision by employees holding to the company line. I read with interest everyone’s opinion on how to increase the handle at harness and flat tracks. But, to ignore the idea that free access to a track’s live stream is important to customers is simply ignoring the obvious. Mr. Gural is a sharp businessman. But, he deserves to read what his customers are thinking on all issues of importance. I am certainly not the only person who has bet less frequently on the Big M card since the live stream charge went into effect. Simply put, more viewers, larger handle.

— Al Gatto / Roselle Park, NJ

Checking in from Texas

I live in Austin, Texas. Getting good articles on harness racing is NOT easy in this state.

I have lived in Texas for 31 years. Before we moved to Texas I lived in Michigan where I owned and raced horses, as well as being in the breeding business. Needless to say the Michigan harness racing scene is for all practical matters DONE. I bred the, at the time , the good trotting mare Jakes’s Impulse. She raced the fair circuit, almost exclusively, and during her racing career held many fair track records and made in excess of $250,000.

I do get to see races these days, but not live, through the Twin Spires website.

Keep up the good work. I would like to see more coverage of the fractional ownership business. It seems to me that it works, but I don’t know if it has really caught on yet. It’s a good way to get some of us former owners back into the game.

— Earl Hoenes / Austin, TX

More on Penpal

I have read the letters and comments about the drive that Pat Lachance gave to Penpal at the Meadowlands last week (2017-04-30 Feedback). I think that the blame doesn’t address the real issue. What happens if Penpal’s past performance was the same, but went off at odds of 20 to 1. My guess is nothing would have been said. And therein lies the problem. Just because a horse is the favorite doesn’t mean it should have been driven any differently. Everyone who bet Penpal has a right to expect a “live drive” no matter what the odds. The odds don’t say how good the horse is, what it tells you is what the public THINKS the chances are of that horse winning. The public is wrong more than half of the time. It is common knowledge that many drivers look at the board before a race to see what the chances are of them winning. They should read the program, feel the horse and drive accordingly no matter the odds. When I have a horse that I think has a good chance, especially if it is at long odds, I’ll bet on it to keep it it’s at a reasonable level so when the driver looks over he thinks that I am live. The result more times than not is that I get a live drive. Conversely, when I have a horse that I think should be driven conservatively I don’t bet a dime in the race so this way when the driver looks over he takes all of the shortcuts and looks for a check. If we want to handle to go up which, in turn, will lead to higher purses every horse has to be given a “live drive” in order to give every bettor the expectation that when he/she puts their money down the horse they bet on will be given every chance to win.

One of the things I love about the Lexington Grand Circuit meet is that there are no holes, there are no cliques, and everybody drives to win which makes for a very exciting racing.
An interesting experiment would be to black out the toteboard that the drivers watch for a week and see what happens. It might be interesting to see how the races are run without the drivers watching where the smart money is going. It would be interesting to see, if a byproduct of this, if nothing else, would be more movement during the race, which leads to a more exciting product.

— Eric Cherry / Boca Raton, FL

Yonkers feed

I couldn’t help but laugh at video of Monday’s 5th race at Yonkers and some of the comments. (full story here)

It’s definitely true that video looks like it was shot from the Goodyear Blimp. However, I’m surprised anyone found that video that much different from the usual video from Yonkers. Yonkers is the only track that can say they enhanced the video production with new HD equipment and wind up having a lousier simulcast feed. Drucker and his cohost appear in this small box and the odds/exactas are, IMO, annoyingly positioned on the bottom of the screen. Most of the screen has dead space. Of course, everyone else also knows that Yonkers continues to have the worst finish line camera angle in the history of racing as well. I wonder when the new finish line will be operational too. Last I heard, they couldn’t find the right camera or it was the NYSRWB that was holding them up. That’s so funny it’s sad. With their camera work it’s no wondering that their handle for each race barely equals the purse being paid out.

All joking aside, politicians can use Yonkers as the prime example of how dead the sport really is. The track has a very good driver colony, top purses, and good horses yet no one bets the product. Scariest, however, is that the handle is getting worse. I remember when the SOANY use to brag when the Yonkers handle reached a million. Now they are lucky to handle a million over two race cards. I know that many fans will say half- mile track racing is dead, but Northfield does pretty well, even pre-slots. For anyone who watched that May 1 race 5 it showed the real problem with Yonkers, boring races. No one in that race pulled until after the third turn. Sure the leader collapsed, but the race was really dull until the stretch. The answer to the boring racing at Yonkers could be solved in one of two ways. The first would be moving the finish line back to original spot half way up the stretch. For those that complain that the live audience can’t see the finish I would say less than 10 per cent of the handle is bet on-track anyway. The other option is the better one though. That’s removing the passing lane at Yonkers. On a normal half-mile track I would say to keep it, but the long stretch at Yonkers actually negates the need.

On a positive note, kudos to the Meadowlands for naming the U.S. Pacing championship in honor of Sam McKee. It’s a deserving tribute to one the best in the business, who was lost way too soon.

— Christopher Fenty / Mt Kisco, NY

RE: Patch This!

Mr. Mattia: The bitterness you express towards thoroughbred racing is puzzling to me (full story here).

You seem to have disdain, or at the very least a total indifference to an event that is by nature (gambling) a very close cousin to the game you make your living at.

The fact that the sport you work in will handle between 10-15 per cent of what the much more popular sport handles is the ONLY indicator of what the general public (the customer) thinks of the two games.

Frankly, the owners, trainers, and all of the people that make the other sport go don’t want or need the support of the harness industry, but I would think that the harness side would welcome some sort of “partnership,” for lack of a better term.

One sport ostensibly has some of the wealthiest people on the planet bankrolling it.

The other has none of that, and that’s not to say that harness racing doesn’t have some deep-pocketed owners because it does.

I don’t think an Arab oil Sheik knows what a racing sulky is, nor does he care. He doesn’t want or need the support from an industry that in no way, shape, or form can even take care of itself.

Each time something or someone presents itself as a remedy or solution, the harness poobahs quickly make sure that progress is stunted.

Publicity department? It’s usually bad publicity derived from bad actors, guys that should not be allowed within a thousand miles of a live racehorse. Who wants to work in a publicity job that is always putting out another fire or icing another black eye?

The game that you and I love so much only exists today because of slot machines and some card and dice games, nothing more, nothing less. And one of the by products of this is that more than a few cheating scumbags get to make a very comfortable living at these places, places where you couldn’t get a good softball game together on a hot summer night from the on track wagering audience.

The only track in the U.S. that does real business does it without the aid of the casino, and watching the carded races with the available horses, it is becoming apparent that something will need to change for that track to survive.

You speak of your horse with one eye: That’s one more eye than what has been overseeing much of the harness industry for the last 20 or so years.

Perhaps if all of the purported “lovers” of the sport had made some noise regarding the scum and the scabs that were stealing their money on camera and on track nightly, there might be some real hope for this wonderful game and fabulous breed of horse.

The reality is, the lack of integrity and oversight has pushed the game far out of public view, and for the people making money in the sport, they had better hope that the slots don’t have a power outage, because if that happens, the stalls will snap shut like giant clam shells.

Try and work with that which you seem to dislike. It could only help in this situation.

— Vic Dante / North Caldwell, NJ

More on Patch This!

Kinda agree with (full story here), but “Patch” was named before he lost his eye!

— John Hennessey / Rockwood, ON

Patch This! Part 3

I just read the lead article by David Mattia about thoroughbred racing (full story here).

While I appreciate his concerns about the hype that goes on about the ‘sport of kings’ and laments the fact that standardbreds and harness racing are the ‘poor cousins’, just whose fault is that? Thoroughbred people have paid the big bucks to breed, own, train and promote their side of racing. They also have history on their side. Then there is the popularity factor worldwide. What does harness racing do in comparison to promote the sport? Apparently, not enough. Does that mean it is the fault of those who prefer the flats as opposed to the buggy set?

I have always loved to watch the thoroughbreds but in the last 15 or 16 years, I’ve gone back to the standardbreds to the point of owning, breeding and racing a few on the local, small tracks. I love the breed, wrote a paper for a University of Guelph online course a few years back on the growth (and decline) of the industry, invested in Ontario farmland and racing paraphernalia and continue to carry on with a few stragglers despite the rest of the family’s exit. I usually watch the Kentucky Derby but without the interest that I once had. In a year with a California Chrome or a “Patch” and his heart warming story, I definitely will pay attention. It’s human nature when you are a horse lover first and foremost. Just an aside to David Mattia — I believe I read that the horse, Patch, already sported the name before he lost his eye. Can’t we just wish him good luck in the race and try to do better with our own side of the business/sport of racing rather than trashing our cousins?

— Lynne Magee / Wingham, ON

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