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Saturday, August 19, 2017

SELL A BIT N WINS FRIDAY NIGHT 55G DISTAFF DERBY

BY FRANK DRUCKER, Publicity Director, Empire City @ Yonkers Raceway

YONKERS, NY, Friday, August 18, 2017—Favored Sell a Bit N (Jordan Stratton, $4.40) proved the fastest femme Friday night (Aug. 18th), winning Yonkers Raceway’s $55,000 Filly and Mare Open Handicap Pace.

            Away alertly from assigned post position No. 5, Sell a Bit N worked around second choice Delightful Dragon (Brent Holland) just after a :27.3 opening quarter-mile. The track, which had taken on water earlier in the card, wound up yielding equal halves (:57, 1:25.3, 1:54).

That was swift enough for the eventual victress, who held off a stubborn, two-move try by Regil Elektra to win by a neck. Delightful Dragon was a pocket third, with Sail to the Beach (Dan Dube) and Lispatty (George Brennan) rounding out the payees…the quintet separated by just two lengths at the wire.

For Sell a Bit N, a 7-year-old Down Under daughter of Julius Caesar owned by Harry von Knoblauch Stables and trained by Peter Tritton, it was her second win in 14 seasonal starts. The exacta paid $36.80, with the triple returning $75.50.


Yes Mickey Upsets in Zweig

By Ray Cotolo, for Vernon Downs

VERNON, NY— Sitting off a contested front, Yes Mickey snuck up the pylons to edge past 6-5 favorite Ariana G and upset at 34-1 in the $320,000 Dr. Harry Zweig Memorial on Friday, August 18 at Vernon Downs.

Long Tom grabbed the front from Yes Mickey before a :26.4 first quarter. Ariana G, sitting third, edged outside and brushed to the lead off a :55.1 half. Devious Man, behind International Moni stalled first over, loomed wide and trotted towards Ariana G’s wheel, pressuring the leader through a 1:23.3 third-quarter while Long Tom drifted off the rail, giving room to Yes Mickey.

Yes Mickey gradually approached the leader up the inside, getting his nose in front within the final sixteenth and edging away to win by a neck over Ariana G in a lifetime-best effort of 1:51.4. Devious Man finished third and International Moni finished fourth.

A three-year-old gelding by Muscle Hill from the Pine Chip mare My Favorite Chip, Yes Mickey won his second race in ten starts, earning $223,087 for owner Mellby Gard Inc. Trained and driven by Ake Svanstedt, he paid $71.00 to win.

"He's a very nice trotter, but it has been hard for him to win races -- he always finishes second -- but today was the right race to win," Svanstedt said. "He was very good the whole race and when I [got] free on the inside, he did it easy."

Svanstedt completed a sweep of the Zweig finals when Evelyn shook loose off a pocket trip to win the $135,000 Filly Final in 1:54.1.

Sitting behind a tempo of :27, :57, and 1:25.4 set by Feed Your Head and pressure from Sunshine Delight parked first-over, Evelyn managed to weave through the dueling leaders midway through the stretch to win by a length over Sunshine Delight, with Feed Your Head faltering to third and Glitzey Gal recovering from an early break to take fourth.

Racing for owners Ake Svanstedt Inc., Little E LLC, Borje Nasstrom, and Silva Stable 45, Evelyn won her fourth race in 20 starts, pushing her career earnings to $192,166. Driven by Andy Miller, she paid $16.00 to win.

"I felt really good except I was a little claustrophobic looking for a little room," Andy Miller said. "She felt really good, I was just kind of waiting, biding my time to get a little room there, and when she got room, she took off."

New York-sired freshmen colt pacers competed on the undercard of the Zweig Memorial, competing in three $37,266 New York Sires Stakes (NYSS) divisions as well as two splits of the Excelsior A and B Series.

Lagging off a hot pace set by Courtly Choice, Hitman Hill struck around the far turn, brushing to a two-length lead over Keystone Tenacious and Topville Olympian rallying late in a 1:50.4 mile in the first NYSS division. Owned by Tom Hill and North Fork Racing Stable, trained by Chris Oakes, and driven by Brett Miller, he paid $12.80 to win.

Casual Cool took the second NYSS split after taking the lead before the half, winning in 1:52.2 over Paprike Blue Chip and I Soar Him First. Owned by Kenneth Jacobs, trained by Linda Toscano, and driven by Jason Bartlett, he paid $6.70 to win.

Mr Profeta snagged the final NYSS division, sitting off a slow pace set by odds-on favorite Jimtastic and rallying to a 1:54 score over American Vision and My Delight. Owned by Anatolia Farm LLC, trained by Roland Mallar, and driven by Scott Zeron, he paid $14.00.

Rockapelo, by Rock N Roll Heaven from the Camluck mare Capelo Rose, won his division of the Excelsior A Series going wire to wire in 1:53.1, while Prophet Blue Chip, a gelding by Rock N Roll Heaven out of the Artsplace mare Weeping Wannabe, won off a pocket ride in 1:55.3 

Rockapelo, owned by Enviro Stables LTD, trained by Linda Toscano, and driven by Jason Bartlett, paid $5.80 to win. Prophet Blue Chip, competing for trainer David Dziengiel with partners Robert Sholes and Edward Davis, was driven by Andy Miller and paid $16.80 to win. 

Brinks Job, by Roll With Joe from the American Ideal mare Exclamation, and Buckeys Brat, by Quick Pulse Mindale out of the Real Artist mare Artists Jewels, won their Excelsior B divisions going wire to wire, doing so in 1:54 and 1:54.1 respectively. Brinks Job, paying $3.60, races for owner Rick Berks, is trained Michael Deters, and was driven by Brett Miller. Buckeys Brat, returning $6.20, is owned by trainer Lawrence La Page and was driven by Jason Bartlett.

Live racing at Vernon Downs resumes Saturday, August 19 with a 13-race program that kicks off at 6:45pmET.


Friday, August 18, 2017

2017 World Trotting Conference Symposium Continues

The Symposium portion of the 2017 World Trotting Conference, in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island, Canada, concluded on Thursday with four panels addressing topics important to the future of harness racing worldwide. Following Friday's World Driving Championship Final, the World Trotting Conference will resume for its final sessions on Saturday, followed by the closing ceremonies.

On Thursday, Angel Suarez of Red Circle, an American marketing agency serving a racing and gaming-industry clientele, suggested ways in which tracks can bring traffic to their websites, and customers to their grandstands and simulcast signals. He said easy toggling between racing and gaming areas of racino websites was “extremely important.” Suarez said targeting the Millennial customer base was difficult, yet offered opportunity: “They don’t have money and they’re not interested in sitting at a slot machine,” but harness racing “lends itself to the Millennial mindset.”

Racehorse breeding experts took to the stage next, with Ryan Dupuis of Ontario Racing sharing recent developments in that province’s Standardbred industry. He explained how purse bonuses and benefits for mare owners and breeders were helping Ontario harness racing in its lengthy recovery from the end of the Slots at Racetracks Program in 2012. “we’re actually starting to see, in our Standardbred sector, stability and growth,” said Dupuis.

Christina Olsson of Sweden’s Svensk Transport opened her remarks by advising that “To promote breeding is very much to promote horse-owning”. She said that trotters of mixed Standardbred-Trotteur Français bloodlines comprised around 100-thousand of Sweden’s 350-thousand horses, with Coldblood trotters making up around 10 percent of racing stock. “The next generation is born in Stockholm and has to have an opportunity to meet horses,” she said, adding that programs like Rikstravet fractional ownership and the “Star Driver” program have helped keep harness racing popular.

Lisa Pfister promoted upcoming clinical trials of a specialized “milk analysis system” for mares, called Pfera. She said that better predication of foaling times reduces the mortality rate for mares and foals.

The “It’s a Small World” international simulcasting panel was led by PMU France’s Scott Finley, who identified three main barriers to the export of signals: data quality, pool size, and “time of day” that races are conducted. Arthur Cooper, a consultant to the Irish Harness Racing Association asked, “How do you change the image of trotting in Ireland?” to attract wagering. Andrew Kelly, the chief executive of Harness Racing Australia, credited the late Sam McKee with having “great confidence” in Southern Hemisphere racing, and “really delivering” by helping get Sky Racing World's simulcast Australian races to North American wagering sites and racetracks.

The last panel of the conference explored the question of “Is it time for whip-free racing?” Geoff Want, chairman of Harness Racing Australia, said the whip ban that would have taken effect in September 2017 was now on indefinite hold, and he was concerned about the popularity of racing in light of animal welfare activists’ growing influence. John Campbell, the new director and CEO of the Hambletonian Society, said that, in his driving career, he considered the whip essential safety equipment, especially for pacers. Whip rule enforcement in Ontario had not harmed speed or racing performance, said Brent Stone, the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario’s director of racing. In fact, Stone said a number of horses had taken new lifetime marks shortly after stricter regulation became the norm.


Red Mile Qualifier Report

Lexington, KY – The Red Mile hosted qualifying races at noon today after an hour postponement while the track recovered from last night’s deluge. By then it was dry and kinda fast, maybe a little dull with moderate temperatures and no wind.

2-year-old trotters opened the eight race card and Tactical Landing was a 1:56 winner for driver Charlie Norris. The big colt took over at the three-eighths, cruised past the half in 58:3 then opened up a long lead which he carried to the wire, trotting home in 28 seconds. He’s the pride of the Tactical Landing Stable who gave a king’s ransom of $800,000 for the full brother to champion filly Mission Brief last fall at the Lexington Selected Yearling Sale and turned him over to Bob Stewart to train. Prince William (Tony Alagna) was up on the wire to be second.

Jimmy Takter drove the A Rocknroll Dance homebred freshman colt Caviart Sundance to a 1:56.2 / 27.2 win for his daughter Nancy Johansson and owner Caviart Farms.

Takter came right back to win the third race with Quantum Kemp, the Muscle Hill x Emilie Cas El brother to Hambletonian winner Trixton, among other stars. The pair went along on an easy lead through the 58.2 half and 1:28.3 three quarters and finished under his own power in 1:57.2. Brixton Medical, John Fielding, Joyce McClelland and Herb Liverman own Quantum Kemp, a $200,000 Lexington yearling buy. Nala AS (Elliott Deaton) was second.

Odds On Stephanie, the 2-year-old full sister to Captaintreacherous was a 1:57.3 winner with trainer Tony (Golden Hands) Alagna doing the driving. The pair scooted home in 28.1 after setting all the fractions Badlilvelocity (Mark Evers) was a good second. Odds On Stephanie was a $230,000 Lexington Selected Sale purchase by Dana Parham and races under his nom de course of Odds On Racing.

Lagerfeld made his first appearance of the season here at The Red Mile today and the 2016 Hambletonian finalist came home a 1:56 winner, trotting home in 27.2 for Takter. The career winner of over $666,000 looked sharp after having been away for nine months. Fusion Man (Trevor Smith) was second and Signal Hill (Alagna) a closing third.

Alagna qualified a nice pair of unraced 3-year-olds in the last two races.

First up was a pretty trotting filly named Chardonnay Hill who was an easy winner in 1:58.3. She’s a Muscle Massive from Fortune Dream who was making her lifetime debut for owner Tom Hill.

In the very next race it was Americam Nation, an American Ideal colt from Docdor Cameo who was a closing third into a 27.2 final quarter of a 1:55.2 mile won by 2015 Kentucky Sires Stake final winner Tail Gunner Hall. Brittany Farms, Deo Volenet Farms, In The Gym Partners and Americam Art Stable have been waiting on this guy and he’s finally there.

Live racing returns on Saturday with the KYSS 2-year-old pacers starting at 7:00 p.m.




Roll With Joe and EBC Finals at Tioga on Sunday

Nichols NY – Tioga Downs will be the focus of the harness racing universe on the afternoon of Sunday, August 20 featuring the $163,000 Roll With Joe FFA Grand Circuit stake and the $521,950 Empire Breeders Classic (EBC) pacing finals.

While the older pacing ranks aren't what they were a year ago when Always B Miki and Wiggle It Jiggleit threw down virtually every week all across North America, what we do have in the Roll With Joe (race nine) is a very competitive, even field of nine accomplished veterans.

Shamballa (Scott Zeron) held his own against the best last year including an upset of the aforementioned pair in a stirring 1:47.1 edition of last year’s US Pacing Championship and his second place finish in the fastest mile ever last fall at The Red Mile. Shamballa has raced but a handful of times without success in 2017 and his last start was two months ago but he qualified back fast at Tioga last Friday. Rick Zeron trains and owns Shamballa with Cool Cat Racing, HA Taylor and Brad Grant.

The top money winner in the race, both career-wise and seasonally, is the iron tough All Bets Off. Over the $2.5 million mark lifetime, he has faced and beaten the best in major stakes from age two right through his present campaign now at six and never goes a bad one. By the way, guess who was third in that fastest mile ever mentioned above? That's right, All Bets Off was. Matt Kakaley has been aboard for virtually every one of those two and a half million dollars for trainer Ron Burke and partners Weaver Bruscemi, Frank Baldachino and Panhellnic Corp.

Last year’s Roll With Joe winner Rockeyed Optomist (Jason Bartlett) returns to defend his title. He’s seeking his first big one of the season for trainer Steve Elliott and owners Anthony Perretti, Ginny Berkner, A&B Stable and Joe Bataglia.

Nine of the Empire State’s finest sophomore pacing colts will battle for $263,100 in a very contentious seventh race. The three elimination winners drew shoulder to shoulder from the rail out; In A Single Bound (Billy Dobson), Heaven’s Gait (David Miller) and Art Scene (Scott Zeron).

While the first two didn’t take much imagination to handicap as logical contenders in their respective eliminations Art Scene did as the lightly raced son of American Ideal was winning for only the second time at odds of more than 15-1. Art Scene had been chasing NYSS types around the smaller ovals before he tipped his hand a bit with a sneaky good effort in the Cane Pace on Hambletonian Day at The Meadowlands. In last week’s win, he prevailed after a long uncovered move on division leader Funknwaffles to win by a neck.

Tony Alagna trains Art Scene for his own interests as Alagna Racing along with partners Brittany Farms, In The Gym Partners and American Art Stable.

EBC fillies go for $257,850 in the eighth where elimination winners Tequila Monday (Brian Sears) and Clear Idea (Mark MacDonald) drew post one and two.

While one would have to consider them as the best fillies in the program this season and while Tequila Monday went a second faster in her elimination split, Clear Idea has prevailed in both of their most recent meetings. Last week’s win was the ninth of the year for Clear Idea and her seasonal earnings stand at $188,113 for trainer Blake MacIntosh who owns the American Ideal lass with Hutt Racing Stable.

A pair of $30,000 EBC consolation races for those who didn't quite make it to the final is also on the Sunday card.

The third of four preliminary legs of the Miss Versatility series (race five) for mature trotting gals rolls into Tioga and Swedish import Pasithea Face S is here to face five rivals following her impressive win in the Dr. John Steele Memorial at The Meadowlands. The Nichols faithful will get their chance to see this potential new star live and in person thanks to this series and owner Courant Inc and trainer Jimmy Takter bringing her in for the race. Tim Tetrick is the driver.

The Tompkins-Geers stakes for 2-year-olds were scheduled for August 20 but the only event that had enough entries to race on the card is the $53,700 filly trot. The others were canceled.

More information and the complete list of entries may be found at the Tioga website.


Post time on Sunday is 1:00 p.m.

It's A Miracle wins feature at Vernon.

John Horne for Vernon Downs.

It's A Miracle (Chris Lems) goes gate-to-wire to capture the Fillies and Mares Open Pace ($9,500)  on Thursday night (August 17) at Vernon Downs.

It's A Miracle (Always A Virgin) would charge out to the front and never look back.  Owned by Victor Finocchiaro and trained by Jordan Hope, she would put up the fractions :25.4, :54.3, 1:23.1, 1:51.1.

The betting favorite , Tataria (Truman Gale), would follow the whole way.  She would come out of the pocket but could not gain and settled for second.  Better Said (Leon Bailey)would finish third.

It's A Miracle ($5.30) would win for the seventh time this season and get her 30th career win.

Chris Lems would win three more on the night.  He would win with She'snobeachboy (Dave Panione), who would fire late to win in 1:53.3 and pay $8.60. 

"Lemsy" would win his second of the night with first time starter, the 2 year-old Waitin On Katie (Art  Major-Catch Me Katie), in 1:58.3.  She would pay $10.60 for the victory.

His last win was with Nower Power (Power Play), who would hit the finish line in 1:57.4.  Paying $6.90 for the victory.

Vernon Downs returns on Friday (August 18) for their biggest night of the season.  The 12 race card features the Zweig Memorial for 3 year-old trotting fillies ($135,000) and the Zweig Memorial for sophomore colt trotters ($320,000).  Also on the card is three divisions of the New York Sire Stakes for freshman pacing colts.  Starting time is 6:45 p.m.


For more information go to www.vernondowns.com

YONKERS HOSTS THURSDAY’S 156G NYSS CLYDE HIRT PACE

BY FRANK DRUCKER, Publicity Director, Empire City @ Yonkers Raceway

YONKERS, NY, Thursday, August 17, 2017—Yonkers Raceway Thursday night (Aug. 17th) played host to the $156,000 New York Sire Stakes Clyde Hirt Pace for 2-year-old fillies.

Three divisions, worth $52,000 each, went postward. 

The opening event saw 3-10 favorite Youaremycandygirl (Yannick Gingras) brush to the lead around second choice Alexis Faith (Jim Morrill Jr.). The official horse of the Archies then set intervals of :28, 57.3 and 1:27.1, only to fold off the final turn.

Alexis Faith ($8.40), from post position No. 2, ducked inside, defeating a second-over, 32-1 Line Dancer (Brett Miller) by a half-length in 1:55.3. Sand Artist was a first-up third, while odds-on ‘Candygirl’ faded to fifth among the half-dozen

For Alexis Faith, a daughter of American Ideal Ontario co-owned by West Wins Stable, Jim Fielding, J. Robert Darrow and Kevin McKinney, she remains perfect (5-for-5) to begin her career. The exacta paid $160.50, with the triple returning $820.

The second sire stakes grouping, was won by second choice All on Top Hanover (Andy Miller, $6.40).  Pocketed—after a retake—from post No. 6, she pulled early against that stubborn foe, even-money choice Python Blue Chip  (Jason Bartlett).

Rebuffed once through intervals of :28.1, :57.1 and 1:26, All on Top Hanover did eventually prevail, besting her rival by a length-and-a-quarter in 1:55.4.

American Myth (Brett Miller) was a loose-pocket third.     

For All on Top Hanover, a Betterthancheddar miss co-owned by (trainer) Erv Miller, Crawford Racing, Ronald Michelon and George Golemes, she’s now 3-for-6 this season. The exacta paid $21.20, with the triple returning $123.

The final sire stakes grouping saw no one able to Get Shorty, as in Hurrikane Shorty (Bartlett, $2.50). With no anxious moments from the pole, the 1-4 choice won by a comfortable length (:28.3, :58.1, 1:27.2, 1:55.4).

Betterthangraduate (Matt Kakaley) chased from the pocket and held second, with Azreal as it Gets (Brian Sears) a closing third.  


For Hurricane Shorty, a daughter of Art Major trained by Kevin McDermott for co-owners Little E LLC, Jason Settlemoir, Arthur Geiger and David Stolz, it was her third win in five first-season tries. The exacta paid $8, with the triple returning $28.20.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

KYSS Freshman Pacers at Red Mile on Saturday

exington, KY – The Kentucky Sires Stakes (KYSS) for 2-year-old pacers will begin on Saturday with the first leg requiring two $30,000 divisions for both sexes.

The pacing colts are up first in the fourth race where Grand Teton looks to continue his perfect record. The Diamond Creek homebred half-brother to their great filly Pure Country by first crop sire A Rocknroll Dance has won three minor stakes in as many starts for trainer Jimmy Takter and driver Brett Miller, flashing high speed in each. Grand Teton gets underway from post three on Saturday.

Takter will send another top contender out in the second colt division (race six) in the brilliantly fast Somebeachsomewhere colt Decoy. Despite being winless in his two starts, Decoy has faced top company in both and sprinted home in a withering 25.1 his most recent start at The Meadowlands. Brett Miller drives this one too, from post six for owners Brixton Medical, RAW Equine and Joe Sbrocco.

With horses coming in from such a variety of state-bred programs it really makes for some very interesting match-ups. The first filly division (race five) includes representatives from no fewer than five regional programs.

Starting from the rail, Worldofrockzee has been the scourge of the KY Fair scene with four wins including the final for trainer Jack Gray. She’s a homebred, raised and raced by Stanley Wildharber of Barlow, KY and top local pilot Randy Crisler drives.

To her far outside wait a fast pair of fillies, from the eight hole it’s Lets Fall In Love a New York sired Rock N Roll Heaven plucked from the Lexington Selected Yearling Sale for $150,000 by William Donovan. Trained in the Ron Burke stable, she recently won a NYSS at Tioga Downs in 1:53.1 her last start and will have Dave Palone in her sulky on Saturday.

Beginning from the outermost post nine is the Lindy Farms homebred Belle, a daughter of Soembeachsomewhere making her pari-mutuel debut. Belle has been a winner in both of her schooling races, by the narrowest of margins in 1:57.3 at Vernon Downs followed by a devastating 28 length romp at The Red Mile a week ago. Domenico Cecere, assistant trainer to Frank Antonacci drove her in both qualifiers while another assistant, Patrizio Ancora will drive in this race.

The seventh race features the undisputed queen of the New Jersey Sires Stakes in Hurrikane Empress who swept both legs and the final of that program in July for trainer John McDermott. She’s a homebred, racing for the interests of Jonathan Klee Racing, Kuhn Racing and Pegasis Investments. Brett Miller is named to drive from post seven.

The pacers will spend three preliminary legs vying for one of ten positions in the September 17 $250,000 finals for each division.

Saturday is also the night for the highly anticipated “Second Annual Wiener Dog Races” which has grown to five divisions and includes a “Running Of The Bull…dogs” heat this year.


Post time is 7:00 p.m.

MacDonald Carries World Driving Championship Lead To Prince Edward Island


Trois-Rivières, Qué. -- Canada’s James MacDonald padded his World Driving Championship (WDC) lead with a win, a second-place finish, and a third-place finish in four tournament races on Wednesday evening (August 16) at Hippodrome 3R in Trois-Rivières, Québec.

His victory came behind Federal Strike in the evening’s second WDC event, and it took some crafty driving to overcome post 11 in the mile-and-a-sixteenth affair for trotters.  The pair established second-over position behind Swedish driver Björn Goop and Abundasass nearing the midway stage, were caught in a blind switch by the three-wide Crown Point (Gerhard Mayr, Austria), but worked into the pocket on the far turn before finding room at head-stretch and lifting to a going-away win.

MacDonald began the evening with a second-place finish aboard Ninoscredit behind American Marcus Miller and Maracasso, who emerged second-over out of traffic before sustaining a belated rally to the fore, and he concluded the card with a third-place finish up the open stretch with Winoc Jimmy behind Maltese driver Noel Baldacchino and Tidewater Tomahawk.  His lone off-the-board finish came in the night’s third tournament race, which saw Finnish driver Mika Forss reclaim second in the standings with a victory aboard ten-year-old veteran Shanghai B G.

The fifth and final leg of the WDC is scheduled for Friday evening (August 18) at Red Shores Racetrack and Casino at Charlottetown Driving Park on Prince Edward Island.  MacDonald’s 192 points give him a comfortable 26-point lead over Forss (166), while Miller (162.5) remains a close third.  Defending champion Dexter Dunn of New Zealand (131) and Baldacchino (120) lifted one position each into fourth and fifth respectively, while Shane Graham (Australia), Goop, Mayr, Eirik Høitomt (Norway), Rik Depuydt (Belgium), and Mark Purdon (New Zealand) round out the field with four races remaining.

The top point-earner at the end of the five legs will be declared the 2017 World Driving Champion and win $25,000 in prize money.

The World Driving Championship – along with the 25th anniversary edition of the World Trotting Conference, to be hosted in Charlottetown – are both held every two years and will coincide with the 250th Anniversary of horse racing in Canada, and Canada 150 celebrations.

2017 World Driving Championship Leaderboard (after four of five legs)
Rank - Driver (Country) – Points


1. James MacDonald (Canada) - 192
2. Mika Forss (Finland) - 166
3. Marcus Miller (United States) - 162.5
4. Dexter Dunn (ITA/New Zealand) - 131
5. Noel Baldacchino (Malta) - 120
6. Shane Graham (Australia) - 113
7. Björn Goop (Sweden) - 111
8. Gerhard Mayr (Austria) - 109
9. Eirik Høitomt (Norway) - 108
10. Rik Depuydt (Belgium) - 85
11. Mark Purdon (New Zealand) - 83.5

World Trotting Conference Symposium Opens


The World Trotting Conference Symposium opened to members of the public on Wednesday with a full day of sessions, in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island.

The schedule began with a keynote address from Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario CEO Jean Major, a regulator of gambling for the last 27 years. He said that since Ontario introduced legal casino gaming in 1992-93, horse racing has lost its “complete dominance” in provincial gambling, dropping to “less than 11 percent” of dollars wagered there annually.

Major said Ontario is moving from a prescriptive approach to a new, outcome-based way of regulating the alcohol and gaming industries.

Next, a panel discussion on the “Brave New World” of betting provided insights on wagering analytics. Dean Towers, secretary of the Horseplayers’ Association of North America, said that handle on sports betting had doubled during the same period that games of chance, like slots, were declining in popularity. Fixed-odds wagering and carryovers were two growing trends Towers identified as capturing gamblers’ interest.

Brad Cummings, founder and CEO of Equilottery LLC, said that “the problem is not the product -- it’s the packaging.” He presented data showing how the quick-pick horse racing lottery game could help attract the Millennial-aged players currently lacking in the sport’s customer base.

Woodbine Entertainment’s Senior Vice President of Information Technology, Chris Lush, said most of the volume on the company’s Horseplayer Interactive wagering site came from Baby Boomers. He added that newcomers “look at our tote systems and they are lost”, but a recently-introduced “Woodbine app” for mobile devices was part of company outreach to “make [wagering] more interactive, more fun.”

Christopher Schick, representing Golden Bear Racing LLC, which operates Cal-Expo Harness, focused on betting options and how they were received by the gambling public. “Each track needs a signature wager,” he said, but some offer “too many gimmicks” relative to respective pool size. Schick noted that “guaranteed pools drive handle”, while reduced takeout is unattractive to Cal-Expo’s biggest bettors, who prefer lower host fees and more rebates.

Next, equine health was front and centre.

Dr. Kathleen MacMillan, assistant professor of equine ambulatory medicine at the Atlantic Veterinary College at the University of Prince Edward Island, provided an overview of some of the most common conditions affecting Standardbred racehorses. Her topics included respiratory health, fractures, and gastric ulcers.

Adrienne Herron, a traceability systems specialist, followed with a presentation about the microchipping of horses. She said that although the practice is still gaining wider acceptance in the Standardbred industry, it will be implemented as a mandatory identification measure in registered Canadian Thoroughbreds, beginning with foals of 2017. Herron said that microchipping was safe and valuable for accurate, immediate racehorse identification, as well as faster cross-border horse transport.

An afternoon panel discussion addressed the topics of medication control and research. Dr. Carolyn Cooper, director of equine drug control at the Canadian Pari-Mutuel Agency (CPMA) cautioned that “you really need to know where your compounded medications come from”, because questionable “trunk-of-a-car compounding” could result in positive tests for prohibited substances. She noted that natural health products also face “little to no regulatory oversight”.

Lydia Brooks, manager of research and analysis for the CPMA, said environmental contamination was “a challenge in the testing for prohibited substances”, because of the many possible ways for horses to come into contact with trace amounts of controlled or prohibited substances.

She said cobalt poses a threat to equine health, and was identified as a prohibited substance by the CPMA beginning in 2015. “The good news is that cobalt levels have decreased significantly since cobalt was first identified as an issue in Canada.”

United States Trotting Association president Russell Williams described the evolution of racing regulation as a response to the sport’s development as a gambling entity. The Hanover Shoe Farms chairman said there was no clear need for the National (US) Uniform Medication Testing Program in harness racing, as it would shift federal program costs to horsepeople and fail to utilize “the human capital in the regulatory system that we now have.”

In the afternoon, the Symposium featured a trio of panel discussions on ways to promote harness racing to new audiences. They followed a lunch presentation by Woodbine Entertainment’s Tom Via, who introduced plans to make Mohawk Racetrack into a “year-round mecca of North American harness racing.”

“The Facts About the Fracs” examined the topic of fractional ownership. Mats Norberg, a board member with the Swedish trotting organization Svensk Travsport, described the highly-popular Rikstravet model of sharing a racehorse. The trainer selects the particular trotter for the fractional owners, said Norberg. “One payment, all-inclusive” billing, and the ability for owners to exit a fractional group if they so choose, have helped make Rikstravet a success.

Justin Van Daele, marketing director for TheStable.ca, spoke on behalf of founder Anthony MacDonald’s Ontario-based fractional ownership group. He said that at a cost of roughly $24 a month, per share, The Stable removed the element of unwanted surprise from the cost of racehorse ownership. Live-streaming drone video on training days, and keeping in touch with owners via “chain e-mails, three to six times a week”, helps owners feel connected, added Van Daele.

Paul Ryneveld, general manager of Alberta’s Century Downs, said the track’s racing club was established, in part, to help remedy the local racehorse shortage. “The goal was to bring horses from out of the jurisdiction to the province,” he said. Ryneveld noted that a “new class of license” initially needed to be developed in consultation with Horse Racing Alberta, ensuring that “no current horse owner would be a part of the racing club” as a means of “hidden ownership.” Century Downs Racing Club purchases and manages the racing careers of its horses. In 2017, there are 94 members, each paying $250 per year.

Mike Tanner, executive vice-president and CEO of the US Trotting Association, said that while the breed registry cannot own or sell horses, it can help in other ways. He mentioned time-limited fractional stables based at Scioto Downs in Ohio, and The Meadows in Pennsylvania, although concerns that horse shares might be considered “securities” under U.S. law have made it a challenge to replicate the model of TheStable.ca.

Later, the symposium theme shifted to working with government. Don Marean of the U.S. Trotting Association stressed the importance of open communication with elected officials, and Joe Faraldo, representing the Standardbred Owners Association of New York, emphasized the value of printed materials and transparency. Gilllaume Maupas, from France’s Le Trot, drew attention to the people and horses that distinguish the racing industry from other forms of gaming today.

The Honourable J. Heath MacDonald, the Minister of Economic Development and Tourism for the Province of Prince Edward Island, spoke about the importance of the relationship between government and the horse racing industry, stressing that the industry has many important messages and must make sure that government has the data and information to make informed decisions.

The day wrapped up after a rapid-fire “Lightning Round” of marketing ideas from international panelists. The audience voted on their top three marketing pitches from Harness Racing New Zealand’s Edward Rennell, Standardbred Canada’s Darryl Kaplan, Adriana Spatzner of Ontario Lottery and Gaming, Johan Lindberg of Svensk Travsport, and Red Shores marketing manager Lee Drake. Results will be revealed today (August 17), when the WTC Symposium resumes at the Delta Prince Edward Island.

The full schedule is available at StandardbredCanada.ca.