HRU Feedback (2017-07-23)

(Editor’s note: We received a number of letters concerning the judges’ decision not to post an inquiry in the Meadowlands Pace before receiving a letter from presiding judge John Tomasello explaining that decision that we published on Friday, July 21 (full story here). After judge Tomasello’s letter was published, HRU received feedback via social media still questioning the decision. People obviously are passionate about this matter. Thus, in order to provide a forum on the topic, we have decided to publish many of the original letters we received this week on the topic prior to judge Tomasello’s explanation being released).

Huntsville cut the corner, what about the bettors?

Huntsville clearly cut the cones at the top of the stretch in the Meadowlands Pace, giving him a distinct advantage over a fast closing Downbytheseaside.

If that cone had been the now obsolete rail, he would have propelled off of it like a rocket.

There was no call from the judges or from the trainer of the second place horse, Downbytheseaside, or any other trainer or owner for that matter.

What about the bettors who used Downbytheseaside at 4-1, who felt abandoned and abused by the lack of a call by the judges for what was a blatantly obvious foul?

And we want to know why bettors shun harness racing?

— Dean Romano / Boston, MA

Let’s call it like it was

Please let’s call it like it was. I am simply a person who loves the sport and is considering getting back into the sport. I am not a gambler. I just enjoy the sport and would love to see it flourish. However, complete nonsense like what occurred in the Pace is ridiculous. Rules and Regulations are developed and are supposed to be enforced or why bother having them? I am a big fan of Tim Tetrick but that does not mean I turn a blind eye to any misgivings that he might be associated with. He clearly went completely inside the pylon in regards to that “anxious moment” and I am sure it was not done on purpose but nonetheless, IT HAPPENED! My understanding is that the rule is in place to ensure one horse does not gain an unfair advantage to any other horse. Well, looking at the margin of victory, one could say that was the difference at the wire? Why was there not even an inquiry? I am not asking you for that answer, rather just asking your opinion, I suppose. Why have judges? It’s really wrong and I feel it borders on disgusting. Zero accountability? FYI, I am supposed to be hearing from the NJ Racing Commission in regards to this matter. I will be surprised if indeed that happens. If I am the owner of Downbytheseaside I am filing a suit against the NJ Racing Commission if for no other reason but to see someone for once having to be accountable for not fulfilling the responsibility of their positions.

— Robert Rosenberg / Coral Springs, FL

At least post the “inquiry” sign

Was anybody who runs or polices harness racing awake during the running of the Meadowlands Pace on Saturday?

Let’s head this off right at the pass: Huntsville was the best. I have no question about that.

With that said, were the judges having a beer during the race, or maybe getting another hotdog, because it was a big, festive evening?

I would think that when you are going for three-quarters of a million and the winner cuts at least one pylon, and another horse breaks behind him, posting the “Inquiry” sign isn’t asking for much. In fact, it’s asking for you to do your job.

I don’t think that many judges would take the horse down, but don’t you have to at least take a look?

And once again we can beat the dead horse of uneven judging, or in this case, no judging.

When will they finally get it? Racing is a game of PERCEPTION. Perception IS REALITY!

When the people who support the game and pay ALL of the freight (especially in NJ with no slots) feel like the game is tilted away from fairness, or al least is being judged unevenly, the players leave. And if you don’t believe it, just look at the handle numbers year after year. They aren’t getting better, and if you adjust for “real” dollars for yesteryear compared to today, it’s really bad.

I won’t address the other things that swirled around this race and the horses who didn’t race. That’s a sideshow to me.

I want judges to adjudicate every race the same way, whether it’s a cheap claimer (never thought I’d say “cheap claimer and Meadowlands” in the same sentence).

A foul is a foul.

If not, then put back the hubrail and we would either see much more careful driving, or many more circus like drivers catapulting over other horses and the solid rail.

I think this lack of action is a flagrant slap at the bettors and the game itself, and is yet another reason that I and others bet a small fraction of what I/we once did.

Wake up guys. You’ve already missed the boat. The train is gone too and you can’t run fast enough to catch up and go forward.

— Vic Dante / North Caldwell, NJ

Agreeing with Towers on Pace Night

Dean Towers brings up a good point in his latest Brush and Crush (full story here) regarding the Meadowlands Pace. It was a stacked card with nine of the 13 races classified as stakes with purses that ranged from $125,000 to $738,550.

On one hand, Towers praises the crowd of 10,000 plus and the overall handle of $3.8 million. On the other, he laments the facts that there were perhaps too many stakes races, which, because of some heavy favorites, offered little value to the bettors. There is validity in both of those statements.

It is an interesting dilemma for sure. Towers wrote The Big M might have been better off with a few less stakes races and more overnighters and smaller purse races; suggesting that card was “too stacked,” which may have caused some veteran horseplayers to shy away from the big races.

He asks if major stakes cards have jumped the shark. How do we answer that? We know that the Meadowlands doesn’t offer alternative gaming, so, in order for the track to get people to come in person it has to offer big events. I believe that it’s better to get 25 new people out to the track once, than one person 25 times. That person is already accounted for, but the newbies are the ones that are needed going forward. The Meadowlands knows that they have to cash in with their two mighty events — the Hambletonian and the Pace. They do this by offering “millions” in purses, and, if judged by the attendance and handle spike, it worked.

I bring up a different view. As a fan of harness racing that rarely bets on races, I love it. To see all those races with all the great pacers and trotters was exciting. To me, there is nothing like the big event. The reason the Kentucky Derby gets great TV ratings is for that very same reason. But, if tracks relied on me, they would go belly up; they need bettors and they need bettors who believe they can make some money. When a Walner is entered, if you bet against him, you’re probably going to lose your money. When you don’t bet on a race, you can appreciate the greatness of Walner, Huntsville, Downbytheseaside and Ariana G — when you’re trying to wager and make money, perhaps not so much.

Most harness racing players like their tracks because they know their horses and like their $14,000 open pace or trots, their non-winners of $6,500 in their last five and so on. A nine to 11-race stakes cards with shippers coming in to compete can be unsettling to those who study and play the track on a regular basis. I was always told that it’s best — when wagering — to pick one track and stick with it to learn the biases, the drivers, the trainers and most importantly, the horses. When the big races come, the vets might lose the interest that the non-fan might love. Most of the people that came to The Big M Saturday were looking to have fun more than they were looking to wheel four horses with Huntsville to make a big score. They made their bets, but they were betting names, hunches and looking over the programs and newspapers for guidance. Of course, that used to be easier when the Times, Post, Newsday and Daily News used to care and write about harness racing. But, the one who prepares knows where to find the proper guidance.

And, a card with less stakes races might bring fewer to the track, meaning fewer hot dogs, beers, sodas, waters and pretzels consumed. Most of the wagering today is done online, so again, not an easy task for the racetracks to be in. They need their online presence, but they also want people to come out and enjoy live harness racing because if my kids aren’t exposed to it, you can bet their kids won’t be either.

It’s tough. Load up the card, get 10,111 people who buy beers, hot dogs, pretzels and sodas or balance the card and get more in overall handle? I’m not privy to know which makes more money for Jeffrey Gural, the Meadowlands owner. Is the $5 hot dog more valuable than betting $5 on the favorite to win?

There probably is a happy medium. With 13 races, could you have three to four biggies and nine “regulars” and still have that big event feel and, at the same time, placate your bettors? There would be that natural buildup to the Pace, just like there is to the Kentucky Derby and the Travers.

It appears that marketing is leaning towards stacking. The Belmont Stakes card is loaded with stakes races; in fact, only the Breeder’s Cup offers more stakes races than Big Sandy does on Belmont Day. The same goes for the Preakness. These tracks plan these mini-festivals to lure in the big crowd for one or two days per year and afterwards, it’s back to overnights and online wagering — and small crowds. Most harness tracks market their casinos and racinos with little time or money spent on hyping the actual racing. As long as people are coming in to gamble, the Monticellos, Saratoga and Tioga Downs of the world don’t mind as long as the patrons are spending their hard earned cash. For the Meadowlands, all they have is the racing and though they could do more, they have likely budgeted accordingly.

The Hambletonian is the next big event in harness racing and it too, is at the Meadowlands. There will be 10 stakes races and over 20,000 people in attendance. They will bet, buy food and drink and hopefully have a great time. The sport is trying to find the right balance and because harness racing is not rising, it’s a tough balance to find, something that Mr. Towers accurately addresses.

One wonders if the advice suggested by Towers — and others — is being heard. After a card like Saturday, is the Meadowlands brain trust honestly evaluating how well their product went off? Are they looking for ways to improve it for 2018? Or, were they satisfied with what transpired on a beautiful evening in East Rutherford, NJ? There isn’t a wrong answer to this question; the only wrong thing would not to be thinking ahead, for the future.

— John Furgele / Glenmont, NY