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Thursday, September 04, 2008

Odds and Ends

- Florida's Pompano Park harness track has established a new rule restricting the use of the whip.

New to racing in North America, the rules call for drivers in any type of race to never be allowed to put the reins in one hand in order to strike a horse with a whip at any time during the race.
Penalties start at $100 for the first offense, but there is also an additional ruling that allows for anyone found to be whipping a horse excessively at any time to be fined up to an additional $1,000 and be suspended from competing and/or ejected from the property. [US Trotting Association]
However, a commenter on the USTA's new Harnessphere social networking site (something I imagine the incredibly passionate and hardworking folks on the NTRA Online Task Force may want to look at), wonders if the penalties have enough teeth.
Are you telling me that getting close to the wire in a stretch duel one of the drivers is not going to one handed whip to get the win? I don't think the $100 fine will even be a thought in his mind. But disqualify the horse and you know he's not going to do it. Plus it is UNFAIR to all who bet the other horse and now lost their money because in essence the driver who beat them cheated.

Think about it!!!!! [Harnessphere]
- Like Saratoga, Del Mar's attendance and handle numbers were down; no surprise there given the economy, and especially so considering that last year's universal ADW experiment was not repeated this year.

What I'd personally be more interested in is to get the statistics on fatal injuries suffered on the Polytrack surface. Curiously, while Del Mar said the amount of overall catastrophic breakdowns “were also lowered," it has not released any statistics. Who's running their press department, Dana Perino? If anyone has any information on that, we'd all love to hear about it.

We were told that the starters-per-race held even from last year at 8.6 horses per race, which may (or may not) dispute a notion I'd heard that horses had been "beat up" on Hollywood's Cushion Track. Again, we hear a lot of vague rumors and whispers about soft tissue injuries and other so-called "non-catastrophic" injuries, and I continue to wonder why nobody seems to want to come out and say anything definitive or present some statistical and anatomical evidence of that.

I turned on TVG last evening, and I was really surprised that they didn't have the A-team out in full force with their on-site reporting and Christina Olivares and the like for closing day. I can't really figure that network out sometimes....I mean, it's not like they have much to do between now and the time that Santa Anita opens. I have to be honest that I just haven't watched TVG much lately anyhow. They generally do good work when they are on-site. But usually, the times I turn it on they just have the sleep-inducing talking heads on from the studio. I could easily go back to Time Warner Cable and live quite comfortably with the NYC-OTB channel. I don't get the prime winter tracks on TVG anyway. Without those, I'm finding its usefulness to be extremely limited nowadays.

I wrote the other day about how I pay attention to how first-timers from major barns are bet in their debut when evaluating them the next time they race. So I was skeptical of morning line favorite Midshipman (Unbridled's Song) from the start since he was 11.80 to 1 when he won his debut for StonerSheikh and Bob Baffert. So you can only imagine how much I didn't like him when he was comatose on the board for the Del Mar Futurity; the 3-1 morning line favorite, he went off as the 6-1 4th choice! Glad I didn't bet this race, as he edged out, appropriately enough, Darley's Coronet of a Baron.
The next time these two run, most likely in the Grade 1, $250,000 Norfolk Stakes at Santa Anita's Oak Tree meeting on Sept. 27, they will both be flying under the Darley banner. [DRF]


BitPlayer said...

The universal ADW experiment was not in place during the Del Mar meet last year, so year-to-year comparisons are apples-to-apples. I was surprised that even ADW handle (the "growth" segment of the industry) was down.

Saratoga, on the other hand, benefited from an increase in ADWs versus last year, because NYRA's exclusive deal with TVG expired over the winter.

I've never really understood the rationale behind live versus studio coverage of horse racing. To me, it doesn't really matter whether the talking heads are in the studio or on-site, because they're usually working from monitors any way. At Del Mar, they're near the walking ring (far removed from the track) with their backs to the horses. Why subject them to the elements (e.g., the windblown Racing Form) and pay the expense of having them on-site? On the other hand, a knowledgeable person (like Christina Olivares or Jill Byrne) in the paddock can really add value by looking at horses and talking to trainers. Why not limit on-site coverage to people performing that function?

Anonymous said...

From North County Times article by Jeff Nahill:

"Harper was pleased with the performance of the synthetic Polytrack, which was faster than last year. Eight horses died on the surface ---- five during the races and three during training hours."

Article at

Interesting that Saratoga only had one breakdown during its meet (and that it was on turf).

Anonymous said...'s the link:

Technilogically challenged.

SaratogaSpa said...

Agree with Bit Player-Capital OTB channel on my Time Warner Cable system shows Jan Rushton in the Paddock from Saratoga commenting on what horse is doing what, how they look etc, which I find very useful. That is better than I would get from TVG-on site or off.

Anonymous said...

As a South Floridian that lives about 10 minutes from Pompano Park, I know that they used to publish the past week's fines in the program. One of the rules used to be "putting reins in one hand and whipping with the other before the eighth pole" or something to that nature. I'm much more of a thoroughbred player but do like to play the Meadowlands and go to Pompano for my simulcast fix. However, as far as drivers deciding late to whip their horses with one hand with the reins in the other while guaranteeing a $100 fine seems questionable. Harness drivers only keep 5% of the purse for winning drives (unlike the thoroughbred jockey's 10) and the winning owner only gets 50% of the purse (unlike thoroughbred's 60). In the standard $4000 race at Pompano (which I would guess is about average, as the Open pacers run for $15,000 I believe), the winning connections would receive $2000 and the winning driver $100, which would be counterproductive.

Wind Gatherer said...

I find it curious and not a little bit funny that Del Mar and Saratoga try to spin the drop in handle and attendance.

Reminds me of the quarterly reports by retailers when they blame the weather for lower sales. WTF?

Anonymous said...

At the Spa, the weather and economy clearly had an effect, but can not help wondering if it is indicative of a larger problem.

Has the greedy town killed the golden goose?

Lodging is just so expensive($800+ for a weekend at a dive that I would not consider anywhere else), and most of the unique retails spots and watering holes have been replaced by chain stores and generic sports bars.

The town just ain't what she used to be.

Many of my friends are now opting for house rentals out of town where they have a pool and a bbq of their own, foresaking the town's "nightlife".

ballyfager said...

"The town just ain't what she used to be". What about the racing, for God's sake? When people finally face up to just how bad the racing has become, Saratoga will lose its cachet and you'll see a really big dropoff in interest. And Belmont's racing is worse.

As to Del Mar (and Keeneland), they made a big mistake. They won't admit this. They'll insist it's fine right up until the day they announce they're taking it out.

Michael Dickinson notwithstanding, it looks very much like artificial surfaces are NOT the future of horseracing.