Thoughts on Gural, Towers, judging and HRU

HRU Feedback (2018-07-08)

July 8, 2018

More transparency needed for judges’ decisions

I’ve watched thousands of horse races in my lifetime, but no longer follow harness or thoroughbred racing like I once did, for a variety of reasons. Not the least of which is the judging.

As a calculated bettor, where is the logic in allowing leading drivers to cut inside of one pylon, never mind three or four during a race, without getting taken down (Jody Jamieson and Sintra being the rare exception last week — but he wasn’t on his home turf) before you give up betting on harness racing?

Pylon violations aside, Bettor’s Edge appeared to have clearly won Race 7 at the Meadowlands on June 30, with an all out drive, to nip Highalator, who had been driven to perfection by Eric Abbatiello, in 1:48. The margin appeared to be much more than a nose; at least a muzzle full. Jennifer Lappe correctly pumped her arm into the air, in victory, at the wire. Eric Abbatiello jogged his horse back to the paddock. Yet, the judges called for a photo.

After an interminable wait, they put up the numbers, and after waiting even longer for them to show a win photo, which they didn’t, I shut off my computer in disgust. Yes, my computer. I chromecast racing from my phone onto my television and bet through an online service like most people now do, and will, in the future.

After the long wait where they posted Highalator the winner, the Meadowlands judges didn’t even have the courtesy to show the win photo. Arrogance continues to reign at the Meadowlands. I’m sure it will get worse once they get their sports betting and later, casino license.

In a time when digital manipulation is common, and consumers are skeptical, it behooves judges and management to post win photos in these close calls.

Maybe Highalator DID beat Bettor’s Edge (I s-e-r-i-o-u-s-l-y doubt it)? Who knows? But we, the bettors, will never have the chance to judge for ourselves.

While $2 bettors were once the backbone of racing, and still keep the faith, it is not a time to alienate big bettors who might be drawn back to betting on harness racing given the wonderful new online technology available. Bettor’s Edge, Jennifer Lappe, and “the bettors” were robbed by the judges that night, whether Highalator (who I myself picked to win) won the race, OR NOT.

— Dean Romano / Boston, MA

Drivers should boycott Big M over banishment of Sears

So now Jeff Gural wants to prevent Brian Sears from driving in the Meadowlands Pace (full story here). Once again, the pettiness, vindictiveness, narcissism, and paranoia of Jeff Gural are revealed and exposed. In all my years of following harness racing I’ve never heard of anything like this — a track attempting to prevent a driver from driving in a stake race for no other reason than “disloyalty”.

As a long time harness racing enthusiast, handicapper, bettor, lover of great racing, the best drivers I ever saw were George Sholty, Walter Case Jr., Mike Lachance, Brian Sears and John Campbell. Their ability to make moves that no one else could, get more out of a horse than anybody, drive with incredible intelligence separated them from the rest. Watching them drive was/is like watching Jordan, or Federer. They, and the horses, make the sport great, not a small-minded track owner who thinks everything is about him. George Steinbrenner was the original Boss, with all the negative inferences of that title. Now Gural is the new Boss. Maybe the owner of the Cleveland Cavaliers will attempt to prevent Lebron from playing in his arena because of “disloyalty”.

If Gural succeeds at his attempt, the race will be cheapened, as will the Meadowlands, and the sport. We all know that the level of racing at the Meadowlands, all two nights of it, is horrible. This is not Gural’s fault, but if a great driver decides to drive at another track six nights a week where the purses are huge, who can blame or criticize him? Gural thinks he can, and takes it personally. Maybe he hasn’t noticed, but none of the top drivers drive at the Meadowlands much any more — understandably. I feel sorry for the TV announcers at the Meadowlands, as well as the executives who work there. They love the game, but have to shill for the Boss in order to keep their jobs. It is so tiring to listen to Gural when interviewed complaining about all the millions he is losing trying to keep the Meadowlands afloat. You know what, Jeff? Sell the track, or close it. I used to love the Meadowlands. Now, living in Florida, I enjoy going to Pompano Park occasionally, where the racing is the equivalent of the Meadowlands. The handles are small, but it’s fun watching Wally Hennessey win five races night after night.

The other drivers in the race should boycott the race. The regular drivers at the Meadowlands should go on strike in protest. Brian Sears is one of them, and any one of them could be next. The powers that be in harness racing should step up to the plate and take a strong position against Gural. The sport has enough problems without something like this tainting it further.

— David Saks / Delray Beach, FL

Gural banning Sears is reprehensible

I haven’t written in that many times this year. It’s been a pretty mundane year for harness racing, so far. In some ways having it boring is plus, especially in harness racing where bad publicity always trumps the good. However, Gural banning Brian Sears from driving in the Meadowlands Pace is absolutely reprehensible. I understand Mr. Gural feels betrayed by the drivers who went to Yonkers — mainly Sears and Brennan. However, Sears wasn’t even driving this year at Yonkers until almost May. I could at least see his argument if he drove week in and week out at Yonkers, but he vacationed in Florida! During the winter months, Yannick, Tetrick, and especially David Miller all took fairly long vacations. How are they different from Sears? Even more ridiculous was that Sears drove at the Meadowlands while Yonkers was closed and was welcomed back by the broadcast team. In the statement released by the Meadolwands earlier in the week they had the audacity to blame Sears’ decision to slow down and not follow the Grand Circuit as a reason he shouldn’t be upset with ban. The whole situation really reeks of a personal vendetta and that’s a shame.

Also, I’m a big supporter of the Meadowlands and I support Mr. Gural in many of his efforts to curb illegal drugs and to keep the track open. I’m one who agrees that the Meadowlands is vital to the survival of the sport. I just wish that he would bite his lip sometimes. As for his quest to get the subsidy reinstated I wish him the best, but with NJ’s financial problems and the breeding industry already nearly destroyed, I can’t imagine the politicians helping out. Hopefully I’m wrong, though.

I also urge everyone to keep a close eye on Yonkers Raceway for a myriad of reasons. With the sale of the track to MGM and the ban expiring on downstate casinos ending in a few years one has to assume racing at the Hilltop is in deep trouble. Even though Mr. Faraldo maintains the racing will continue and that there is protection in the state’s VLT law, I can’t imagine anyone can feel good about the new buyer. It’s one thing if the track was sold to Penn Gaming or Harrahs or Mohegan Sun. They at least run racetracks. MGM has absolutely A) No clue how to run a racing operation and B) most likely no intention of learning. It’s clear that they want to develope the property and the track is clearly in their way. The fact that MGM hasn’t even mentioned their plans regarding the racing is deeply troubling. Am I the only one who can’t possibly envision them putting up the money for the International Trot when even the Rooney’s where unsure about its viability since it loses so much money? Also, MGM has a clear monetary advantage of the horse people to lobby the crooked NY politicians to break them out of any agreements regarding the VLTs. The Rooney’s may have saved Yonkers before, but their greed may ultimately finish off Yonkers now. Obviously, the Rooney’s were going to pick the highest bidder as any one of us would probably do. However, as someone who is enshrined in the Harness Racing Hall of Fame, you would think that they would possibly think of all the people impacted by a sale to the wrong party. In my opinion, MGM is a terrible partner for the future of harness racing in NY. Finally, if MGM succeeds in what is almost a certain quest to rid the track of racing, beware of the precedent it will set for all of NY. Again, hopefully I will be wrong.

— Christopher Fenty / Mt Kisco, NY

HRU should stay out of PA spat

Why would HRU bother to follow the Pennsylvania supposed cover up (full story here) that Paulick Report first brought to light, and only print the response letter from the Commission and a link to the original story when this is far from over?

Alan Pincus is not going let this go seeing as the PA Commission appears to be trying to make this personal between them and Mr. Pincus.

In my opinion HRU should let this play out in the media elsewhere because when a fight starts someone always comes away bloodied and all other parties become more divided.

— Bob Adams / London, ON

Thoughts on Towers’ latest

I read with interest the article about trying to raise the betting on stakes races (full story here). I am a long-time fan and still bet harness racing on a regular basis. I remember years ago how I always looked forward to The Battle of Brandywine and always bet the most that night compared to most nights. I still prefer to bet with the smaller tracks, now its mostly Harrah’s and Pocono Downs but I haven’t missed a Little Brown Jug simulcast in years. I have noticed how bad the handle has become every year recently. Some of the suggestions made could help. But the biggest change I have noticed is the number of races that I consider unbetable due to a key horse being below one to one. In these cases you either have to make a large win bet or look for value in the exacta, trifecta, or other multi horse, or race combination. With the smaller betting totals compared to thoroughbred racing, it doesn’t make sense to try and make a big win bet. In many cases there is little value in the exacta or trifecta pools as well. So in that case I and I am sure many other bettors just pass the race or make some smaller bets in the exacta or trifecta pools hoping for some longer odds horde finishing behind the outstanding favorite.

So what’s the solution? Baring the outstanding favorite in the race is one solution. But I still would prefer to see a more competitive field assembled to make the betting more interesting. In that case it is up to the people who set the eligibility rules to look closer at what conditions they set. Maybe also allow late entries at a good supplementary entry fee to try and attract late rising star horses to enter and run. In the meantime I will most likely play as much or more in bets on a more competitive mid level claiming race than on a high purse stakes race.

— John Chambers, Lansdowne, PA.

More on Towers

Dean Towers had a good column offering ideas on how to increase the handle in stakes races. Dean mentioned, “more open draws”. The drawing of post positions is one of the most important aspects of creating a good race. The worst thing you can do is allow the elimination winners to pick their own post. This usually results in a big favorite winning easily from an inside post. But we still have major races where the horses that race well in the eliminations get a post position advantage in the final. The reasoning for this is that it’s supposed to make the elimination races more competitive. But the elimination races aren’t the big show, and everyone knows it. Thirty years from now, people aren’t going to be talking about horses that won an elimination race. Sure, the elimination races aren’t good betting races, but everyone knows that. The races that people watch, and would like to bet, are the stakes race finals, and the focus should be to make these races as competitive as possible. When you give the elimination winners a choice in the final, it looks like harness racing is an insider’s game where the races are essentially a set up to make it easy for the big and powerful stables and richest owners to dominate. The focus should always be on the customers, which in this case, are the bettors. Open draws make for the best betting boards. If the best horse draws the worst post, that’s good, it makes it a more interesting race, a better betting race. If you look at thoroughbred racing, the Kentucky Derby, and other major stake races, have a huge betting handle. Sure, sometimes the best horses have to overcome a difficult post position because of the open draw. That’s what your customers want – exciting, wide open, competitive races, with a good betting board. Sometimes I wonder if Harness Racing has forgotten why people bet horses. Bettors aren’t chasing that $2.40 winner that keys a $9.00 trifecta. That’s not the dream.

— Bob Pandolfo / Northhampton, PA

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