USTA director David Siegel on freeze-branding issue

HRU Feedback (2022-03-20)

March 20, 2022

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USTA director David Siegel on freeze-branding issue

As the lead (USTA) director sponsor of the suggested rule change proposals to reinstate mandating freeze-branding (in addition to micro-chipping), I thought it would be valuable to sum up what occurred at the annual (USTA) directors meeting, and where things will likely go from here. There have been unfair accusations from both supporters and detractors of the proposed rule, and I hope those on both sides view me as someone who is quite fair and attempts to see all sides of an issue. That said, I strongly supported the mandating of freeze-brands.

The proposed rule change to mandate the brand in addition to the microchip was voted down by the board. The discussion was fair and those who wanted to voice their opinions and recommendations were heard. The points that were raised by those opposed all had merit. I don’t think they had enough merit to deny the rule change but clearly the majority did. It is a democratic board.

I think it is unfair to criticize the (entire) board for not caring about horses. Such commentary is far too general and largely not true, as the vast, vast majority of its members, do truly care — though there are some that I do think view the horses as chattel. Also, I think some of the commentary is greatly exaggerated – such as those that might say the lack of action on this rule change will kill “thousands” of horses. Such comments are made emotionally, rather than based on anything factual.

Remember, that the brand is still OPTIONAL to be used, and the folks who read this should not waste time focused on what might have been, but rather doing all they can to raise awareness of this option. I have already spoken with the USTA and it will be taking steps to improve the clarity of this option when a horse is being registered – much like a Southwest Airlines clearly markets the availability of the “early bird” upcharge. I am expecting to see this change in the very near future as it is a high priority for their development team. The current cost of $40 will also be reviewed such that the charge will be cost-neutral to the USTA so perhaps the final charge will be lower.

Furthermore, the debate already has resulted in terrific action. Several breeders, including two of the largest (Hanover Shoe Farms and Blue Chip Farms) have committed to brand all 2022 foals. The rule change included a 2023 start, so such commitments are resulting in earlier action that the proposed rule stipulated.

I expect and urge proponents to spread the word about the option. I hope they will push breeders they may know or work with to brand their horses. I would expect them, if they own a horse, to spend the $70 (higher fee when not branding while microchipping) and brand any unbranded horse they may own.

The USTA will be able to tell us after year’s end how many of the microchipped horses were also branded to see what kind of progress has been made, and perhaps, improve this number in the years going forward. While 100% of our horses won’t be freeze branded, perhaps a sizeable enough number can be reached to make a measurable impact. Also, if the issue is important enough to enough members, they have the option to vote unsupportive directors out of office or run for seats themselves.

In sum, progress for more brands has already been made. I hope that the proponents will turn their energies in a productive direction given the cards they have been dealt.

David Siegel / USTA District 3 Director

 

Not addressing drag is “penny wise and pound foolish”

I use a computer program I designed to pick winners at harness tracks. In the old days, I could spend the morning handicapping every track in the country and then place “If” bets online in all the races at all the tracks. I bet every race with the “If” condition that if the odds were what I considered an overlay at one minute to post, the bet would be automatically entered. If the odds were not to my liking, then no bet was made. I pushed hundreds of dollars every day into the game. To tell the truth, I barely broke even, but the small bonus I got from the online betting services put me ahead.

Then drag hit. One minute to post was now eight minutes from the start of the race and the odds at “one minute to post” are not even close to what they go off at. I found the computer “IF” bets were being made on horses that finally went off at prohibitive odds, and I was losing money. So, I stopped pushing hundreds of dollars every day into a game I was losing. Now, I’ll just make an occasional bet on races that I’m watching live. Instead of pushing hundreds a day into the game, I might bet about $100 a month now. Drag is a drag. Delaying the post time might squeeze a few extra dollars from the pockets of race fans at the track, but it turns off online bettors like me who used to bet thousands of dollars a month. It’s penny wise and pound foolish.

Earl Paulson / New Hyde Park, NY

 

Long list of reasons post-time drag has to go

I’d like to reply to Richard Young’s “Feedback” letter from March 13 (read more here). In it he suggests that there really isn’t a post drag and I disagree but not so much as if there’s a drag, but does it help or hurt the sport.

What I am hearing is that by creating this drag it increases handle. And one should get used to it as Mr. Young suggests. He said it’s like a clock that is set ahead 5 minutes so you’re not late. You eventually get used to it, but what about those that visit? They have no idea of the real time or what your “fantasy” time is. It’s confusing and frustrating.

This isn’t much different than post drag.

I think decisions made should be based on the pros and cons.

Pro:

  • Increases handle
  • Helps NOT to run races at the same time as other tracks

Cons:

  • For me if I just log on and I see 0 minutes left, I wait till the next race, because I’m not sure if they’re going off in one minute or five, so why try to rush a bet.
  • It’s aggravating. Sorry, but when I am handicapping, I’m not sure how long “0” has been up. So do I have time to get up, grab a snack, a drink, look at a different track, whatever… I’ve done this and when I get back they’re at the half-mile pole.
  • The next two are the most important:
  1. It’s not transparent. This sport is scrutinized on its integrity. Read this publication. Someone is addressing racing integrity in every release. There’s nothing transparent about an unknown start time. When I was in the stands in the ‘70s – ‘90s , if there was a delay in start, the first thing I heard was, “they’re fixing the race.” I know that’s absurd, but how about new customers? What are they thinking?
  2. Speaking of new customers, the 20-30 year-olds already have a short attention span. They hate waiting 20 min for “action.” Now throw in 0 minutes to post and then make them wait 5-10 more minutes. You lost them. At least if they see the clock ticking down they know it’s only one minute away from the start and that will keep them engaged. Remember, if they are playing slots, poker or dice, when they pull the handle, shuffle the cards or when dice are in hand do you think it’s okay to have them wait five more minutes? Slot machines would be empty if every pull took five minutes to start spinning! Slots are jammed because you get action every 30 seconds you pull.

And in my opinion the pos can be fixed. I know the Meadowlands did a test of starting on time and said it decreased handle, but the sample size was too small. I believe the test was only seven or eight racing nights. One, that’s not enough time to condition bettors to start getting bets in at 2 minutes instead of 0. And second I believe there were some bad weather nights and that usually decreases handle. Let’s try it for three months in the summer.

And for not butting heads with other tracks, when you’re going to set the next race’s time, look at Mohawk, Yonkers, Hawthorne, whatever tracks give you the most handle competition and set around it. It doesn’t have to be perfect. I know for myself I never bet more than two tracks anyway. So, if one time you run up against another, so be it. It’s more important that you can start your race when the clock strikes 0.

Please reread the important two points above. If we want NEW bettors then it’s far more important in the long run to maintain integrity and keep bettor’s interest than playing the “better hurry up there’s 0 minutes to post” game.

Manny Guagliardo / Hoffman Estates IL

 

The fat lady is singing

It appears that the harness racing high muckity-mucks don’t much care about our complaints that there is a “Fire-in-the Attic,” it’s business as usual until it isn’t. Well, I for one have moved on to other sports where rules are followed, oversite is applied as mandatory and those that are appointed to administer oversite do their D-M Job Why in the world would we not apply a “Once and Done” rule to bad people who don’t follow the rules? Why would I want to give multiple chances to trainers that drug horses or have proven involvement in FIXED races? Anything short of harsh rule application exacerbates the problem and rottens the whole barrel.

Examples:

  1. Catching trainers multiple times using illegal “yes, I said illegal” drugs. This is no different than allowing a car-jacker a minor slap on the wrist when their caught.
  2. Allowing multiple infraction of the rules such as listed on the track’s website with the fines.
  3. A tier system being provided by the facilitator booking our bets so that if you’re a big player you can get service with a much quicker “Re-Fresh Rate” enabling the customer to see true odds before the bet so that you don’t think the horse you want to bet is at a true odds of 2-5 not the 6-5 you think your betting.
  4. No explanation provided nor questions satisfied when the favorite backs up through the field.
  5. With administered drugs being checked more often, today’s crooks have now adopted the tried-and-true method of “stiffing” their horse for a few races then suddenly showing up in the gimmicks with a 15-1 or 30-1 horse. Tell me you haven’t noticed this trend and it’s prevalent in both the runners and harness.

These are just a few of my complaints and with the USTA’s Russell Williams comments from a couple of weeks ago you can see just how far out of touch oversite is with the officials charged with their administration.

David Perry / Dearborn, MI

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