Archive for July, 2017

The Obscure Guy is Me

July 27, 2017

by John Furgele (Your Trusted 228)

I’ve been an avid sports fan since 1976.  I don’t proclaim to be great at anything, but as far as knowledge of sports goes, I would rate myself better than excellent.  I remember specific moments from specific games; often obscure games.  In fact, when I was cutting the lawn the other afternoon, I realized that I am a man of the obscure; a man that likes the obscure. Let’s check it out.

I liked the USFL.  I actually thought the quality of play was good, and to this day, I still struggle to understand why spring football can’t work in the United States. Of course, that was the problem with the USFL.  For three seasons (1983 thru 1985) they played in the spring and then, the owners, led by Donald Trump decided that it was best to move to the fall, a move that never happened as the league folded before that came to fruition.  They did sue—successfully—but received only $3.87 for their pain and suffering.  I’m not good with money, but that probably wasn’t enough to reunite.  We all know that the league had solid players with many of them going on to successful NFL careers.

I thought the XFL could have made it.  Yes, that’s right.  The league got off to a rough start.  The play was bad, the founder was loud and the product was too over the top.  But, by the end of the season, the play was better but the problem was that the fans had already checked out.  I always wonder what would have happened of the league lost their shock value and tried to cultivate both its product and its play. They told us the league would be a game-changer before they played games.  That is usually a recipe for disaster.

I like the Canadian Football League, aka the CFL.  There is a spring-summer football league up north.  It features nine teams, three downs, 12 players a side and a 110-yard field.  At first, it sounds strange to hear 3rd and 5 from the 52, but if you give the league a chance, you’ll get used to it.  I grew up in the Buffalo, NY suburbs and there, we could watch CFL games on CBC and CTV as they provided a nice summer diversion during the baseball season.  Their big game is the Grey Cup which is usually contested on the last Sunday in November.  I will likely never attend a Super Bowl, but at least I can say I saw a Grey Cup Game live and in person, back in 2001, when Calgary upset Winnipeg, 27-19.

I like MLS—Major League Soccer.  For the most part, there are two kinds of sports people:  those who like soccer and believe non-likers are not intelligent enough to appreciate it; and those who think soccer is boring, for wimps and a game for other countries to play.  I do believe that over the last 15 years, both sides have softened and MLS is gaining more and more respect across the sports landscape.

Most Americans like the World Cup; when the United States plays, it garners attention from all sports fans, not just the soccer purists.  But, that’s part of the problem, too.  For soccer to really gain a foothold, MLS needs to get more play in the USA sports landscape.  When you tune in to sports talk radio, it’s the same stuff every day to the point of boredom.  If you turn on ESPN, Fox, Sirius XM, you are bound to hear talk about the NBA, Lebron, football, Colin Kapernick and anything steamy like the recent Hugh Freeze saga.  The networks and hosts refuse to educate themselves on MLS; refuse to categorize it as the fifth major sport despite the continued growth of the league that debuted in 1996.  Do we need to spend hours talking about DC United and NYCFC?  No, but a few minutes per week?  Will that “kill” the ratings?

ESPN Radio used to be “all-sports radio,” before they spent billions on the NBA and the NFL.  They have Barry Melrose to analyze hockey and there was a time where he could be heard on their radio programs, but those days are long gone and since ESPN no longer broadcasts NHL games, it won’t be returning anytime soon.  But, they do broadcast MLS games, as does Fox, but it would be beneath Colin Cowherd to mention anything MLS.  He prefers to talk about Russell Westbrook’s fake triple-doubles. Why not bring your soccer expert for a few minutes to talk soccer both here and for that sake, around the globe.

I like harness racing.  When I tell people that, I usually get two responses.  The first is that it’s a sport for old people and even though I am nearing 50, they say I’m too young to follow a sport where horses pull chubby guys in a bike or sulky.  The second is that they tell me the sport is rigged because they see guys pulling back in the stretch, allowing them to get passed at the wire.  They fail to realize that when a driver pulls back, he is lightening the load that the horse has to carry; in essence, making it things easier for the trotter/pacer to run.  For some reason, harness racing gets mocked even though the horses race much more frequently than their thoroughbred counterparts.  Don’t get me wrong, I like thoroughbred racing too, but that sport is not as obscure as harness racing and this list is centered on the obscure.

There was a time where harness racing drew crowds of 40,000 and up to their tracks, but things like off track betting, cable TV and now the Smartphone took them away with the sport now relying heavily on casinos and slots to help it move forward.  There was also a time where ESPN—The Worldwide Leader—showed harness racing on its airwaves, back when ESPN only cared about sports. Those were the good old days of ESPN before Stephen A. Smith, before covering politics and before not only covering O.J. Simpson’s Nevada parole hearing, but bringing in a panel of experts to analyze what’s next for the man acquitted of double murder back in 1995.  I honestly wonder if sports fans would watch harness racing over stuff like O.J, Kapernick and Stephen A. Smith.  I believe they would and if you go to You Tube and search under Harness racing, you’ll see ESPN covering the big events and covering them well. ESPN certainly knows how to cover sports/games—it’s the non-sports stuff that makes many pause.

I like AAA baseball and even independent league baseball games.  I would love to see a Buffalo Bisons-Rochester Red Wings game on TV as well as seeing the Omaha Storm Chasers take on the New Orleans Baby Cakes.  I would also like to watch the Long Island Ducks of the independent Atlantic League; the Rockland Boulders of the Can-Am League and the Sioux Falls Canaries of the American Association.  I often wonder why the MSG Network can’t strike a deal with the Ducks and Boulders to show some of their games.  Instead, we get “The Best of the NY Islanders, the Devils and the Knicks;” three teams that didn’t sniff the playoffs in 2016-17.  We also get movies, old-timers tennis and replays from tennis exhibitions from 2014.  That’s what happens when you have all your hands in the winter sports basket.  I know it’s expensive to produce games, but why show “Rudy,” when Boulders-Ottawa Champions is available?

I like FCS football.  It can be very tough explaining college football divisions (ask my girlfriend) to people.  In basketball and other sports, it’s easy.  We have Division I, II and III, but in football, we have four divisions; the Football Bowl Subdivision, the Football Championship Subdivision, Division II and Division III.  In the old days, it was 1-A, 1-AA, II and III, a classification system that I still believe is easier. That said, why are there four football divisions and only three basketball divisions even though there are three times the basketball teams as there are football teams?  Villanova plays FCS football in a stadium that seats 10,000 people while Michigan plays FBS football in an 113,000 seat stadium.  In basketball, they are equals, but in football, it’s not even close and when a FCS team beats a FBS like Appalachian State did to Michigan in 2007, it is big, big news.

But FCS football has a grassroots feel to it; the way football used to be before superconferences, outrageous TV fees and corruption took over.  When football went big time, the Ohio States moved forward while schools like Colgate, Holy Cross, Delaware, Villanova and a Youngstown State decided to stay where they were at.  Did they miss out?  Perhaps, but to me, if you don’t watch a few FCS games in the fall, you’re missing out because, like AAA baseball, it’s simply good.

Is this list too obscure or not obscure enough?  That’s for you to decide.  But, I know who I am, a man that prefers a Marist-Stetson football game over Syracuse-Boston College, so don’t even bother telling me I need help; I already know.  I don’t think I’m alone here, but then again, I’m not sure either.



Bit of a Legend N Blazes Home in Gerrity

July 23, 2017

by John Furgele

SARATOGA SPRINGS—Every track has it signature day and Saratoga Hotel Casino is no exception as all eyes were on a stellar field of eight that gathered for the $260,000 Joe Gerrity Memorial Pace.  This was the ninth edition and this collection of eight older horses could have been the best the event has seen.

Sintra came in as the favorite.  The 4-year-old was coming off a blistering effort at the Meadowlands and with the comfortable four post, things—on paper—made the race his for the taking.  But, as we know, this is harness racing and things can and do happen.

It was a good start for all; Keystone Velocity, breaking from the eight post, tried to leave, but was thwarted by Boston Red Rocks who broke from the one post, but it was a contentious start and quickly turned into an early speed duel.  All Bets Off put immediate pressure on Boston Red Rocks but was turned away as they hit the quarter in a blazing 26.4.

After sitting coolly in third Yonkers invader Somewhere in LA decided he needed the lead and took it briefly only to yield it to the favorite, Sintra, who led the field through the half in a fast and furious 54.4.  Many, including track announcer Mike Sardella were thinking that Sintra might take control, but the other horses would not let him breathe with Somewhere in LA recapturing the lead with a 26.4 third panel and a three-quarters split of 1:21.2, which for a half-mile track is something rarely seen.

That time might have taken the starch out of both Sintra and Somewhere in LA and in some ways, Boston Red Rocks who was always close to lead and would finish a game third.  On that final turn was Bit of a Legend N, who, in May won the $150,000 Molson Pace at Western Fair Raceway in London, Ontario.  Content to let the others blaze away, “The Legend,” decided to make his move, going four-wide in the final turn.  The extra distance didn’t bother him as he roared down the stretch much the fresher—and best—to win in a more than impressive time of 1:50.3.  Mach It So also finished strongly picking up a second place check ($65,000) while Boston Red Rocks held on for third ($31,200).  Despite being winless in 2017, Boston Red Rocks continues to cash checks; a hard luck horse to say the least.  Somewhere in LA was fourth and Sintra tired, finishing last.

Bit of Legend (15-1) rewarded his supporters, paying $32.20, $14.20 and $7.90.  Mach it So paid $13.20 and $10.00 and Boston Red Rocks returned $3.20 to show.  The exacta paid $1,037.00 and the trifecta a nice $5,295.00

It will be interesting to see where these horses race next.  Hambletonian Day is in less than two weeks and there are some excellent pacing races on the mega card August 5.  But, the Gerrity certainly was a race that lived up to its billing.

There were also two open races; one pace and one trot and they didn’t disappoint either.  In the $25,000 open pace, all eyes were on Dr. J Hanover, who despite his Canadian soil of record of 1:46.4 did not have enough in earnings to make the Gerrity field.  But, he was outdone by Luck Be Withyou who went to the front and romped home in the fastest time of the year at Saratoga, a head shaking 1:49.2.

In the open trot, Gural Hanover also turned in the fastest trot of the Saratoga season, winning in 1:54.  The 14 race card handled over $423,000 and a nice crowd was on hand to see it.

With the flat track in session, there are some changes at Saratoga Hotel Casino.  Thursday afternoon racing has been replaced by Tuesday night racing and through September 2, the track will race on Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday evenings.  Thursday afternoon racing will return on September 7.


A Tale of One City, Two Tracks

July 20, 2017

Thoroughbreds off at The Spa, Big Day at The Harness

by John Furgele (The Reliable 228)

Tis the season, everybody.  On Friday, July 21 the 149th season of racing will begin at Saratoga Race Course.  And, for the 149th time, there will be no shortage of quality at the 40-day meet.  Unlike other race courses, there is no buildup to the big races.  On Saturday, the $500,000 Diana Stakes comes right up and hits you in the face.  The race features Lady Eli, who made a remarkable recovery from laminitis to continue her racing career.  Sunday features the $300,000 Coaching Club American Oaks.  Other tracks, like Del Mar, will pretend to have more stakes races, but no track features more races with purses over $100,000 than the place that opened in 1864; the place they call the Saratoga Race Course.

The highlights are plentiful.  The Whitney, Alabama, Jim Dandy, Woodward, the newly renamed Allen Jerkens (formerly the King’s Bishop), and of course the signature race of the meet, The Travers; a race that could feature the three winners of the Triple Crown races.  If all things go well, we could see Always Dreaming (Kentucky Derby), Cloud Computing (Preakness) and Tapwrit (Belmont Stakes) go at it in the Midsummer Derby.  The chance of that happening will depend on which prep races are chosen and of course, the health of the horses.

Saratoga is unique in many ways with one being a six-day racing week.  While many tracks look for days to cut races, the Spa goes to the post six times and in all honesty if they could run seven times per week, they likely would.  It’s a 40-day meet that ends on Labor Day and it goes fast.  Don’t be one of those that think you have plenty of time to get there because before you can blink, the meet ends and the horses head back to Belmont.

You see it all at Saratoga; diehard racing fans, people who know nothing about racing, pretty girls and pretty dresses, handsome guys with handsome suits and everything else in between.  There truly is something for everybody.

But, Saratoga is not a one trick pony—pun intended.  Literally across the street on Nelson Avenue sits Saratoga Hotel Casino, which is home to a harness track.  The “half-mile,” is in its 76th year and gets very little attention during its season and even less during the “Flat Track” meet. To that point, the Albany Times Union no longer prints entries and results, but the track, buoyed by video gaming machines fights on with a schedule that runs from February to December.  When a few co-workers asked me if I was excited for the upcoming track season, I coyly replied that “the track’s been open since February.”

Saturday is perhaps the biggest racing day of the year at “Saratoga Harness,” featuring the $260,000 Joe Gerrity Memorial Pace.  The race features eight pacers, all accomplished and all taking aim at the $130,000 first place prize.  Last year, 2015 Horse of the Year Wiggleit Jiggle It won it and this year, the favorite is likely to be Sintra, but he will be joined by Yonkers star Somewhere in LA, Boston Red Rocks, Mach It So, the Levy winner Keystone Velocity, Molson Pace winner Bit of a Legend N, as well as All Bets Off and Clear Vision.  All eight have great resumes and this should not only be a good race, but a good betting race as well.

The card also features four divisions of the New York Sires Stakes, four divisions of the New York Excelsior series, and two $25,000 Open Handicaps.  The Open Pace features Dr. J Hanover.  All he did was pace the fastest mile ever on Canadian soil when he stopped the clock in 1:46.4 at Mohawk in June.  He will face stiff competition from Western Fame (1:51.0) and Luck Be Withyou (1:49.3).

The Open Trot is just as solid with Red Hot Herbie, Cash Me Out and Gural Hanover leading the way.  In all, 14 races, all solid and all important as Harness racing inches closer to its biggest day, the Hambletonian on Saturday, August 5.

Is Saturday a day to do the double dip?  How many will head to the Race Course in the afternoon and then saunter over to the Harness Track at night?  There will be some, but not that many.  There are very few that follow both Horse and Harness racing.  As chronicled in the past, those that follow the thoroughbreds take pride in ignoring standardbreds with the feeling being mutual.  For some reason, a line is drawn in the sand.  If you like one, you can’t like the other.  In some ways, it’s like the fan who says that they root for the Yankees and the Mets.

I can see the respective points.  I am a fan of both, but it’s tough to follow both.  As my interest in Harness racing has grown, I find it tough to watch both styles.  The case in point are the Saturday features.  In the Diana, the only horse I really have a bead on is Lady Eli.  I can pretend to know the others but the truth of the matter is I haven’t seen any of the others race.  On the other hand, for the Gerrity, I have seen all eight race more than once and feel that I could give an honest account from both a preview and handicap perspective.  As we know, the Harness horse races more often.  We’re almost seven months into 2017 and the Gerrity will be the 23rd race of the year for Somewhere in LA; the 19th for Clear Vision and the 15th for Bit of a Legend N.  If you like seeing horses run then Harness racing may suit your palate.  If you like seeing the sheer power, beauty, speed and grace then Thoroughbred racing will best suit your palate.

I still believe that you don’t have to choose; that you can like both. We know that this weekend Saratoga Race Course will demand and command the spotlight, but the track on Nelson Avenue offers a very strong and powerful counterpunch.  If the local media was truly dedicated to covering big events then all would send crews to the Harness track for the Gerrity.  That won’t happen, but that won’t take away from a very good race on a very good card of races at “Saratoga Harness.”  In sum, it’s a big day—a big day for both tracks.

The Meadowlands Pace is Here

July 15, 2017

The Hambletonian may be bigger, but this day ain’t too shabby

by John Furgele (The Trusted 228)

In my last column, I spoke of how the sport of Harness racing needs the Meadowlands to continue its relevance going forward.  This Saturday provides the evidence as to why this is so.  With the Hambletonian about three weeks away, The Big M is getting ready with an outstanding night of races.  In all, there are 13 races on the card; nine of which have purses of over $100,000.  Some of the Saturday races serve as preps for the Hambo and Hambo Oaks while others are just big-money races designed to attract the best trotters and pacers in North America.

Last year, Marion Marauder won the Trotting Triple Crown and unlike many great horses and for other reasons too, his Canadian owners did not retire him.  He will race in the $458,750 Hambletonian Maturity.  He showed his class last week in a win at The Big M and will be the betting favorite in the Maturity.  With more than 10 in the race, the distance will be 1 1/8 miles, which only adds to the intrigue.  MM won the Graduate last week in 1:51.2 and won easily, so he looks ready and raring to go Saturday.  The field is solid but not spectacular; could Trolley be a threat?  Other than him, I don’t see anybody stopping Marion Marauder in this one.  And, the best thing is that we as fans get to see a champion horse race past the age of three and thus far, Marion Marauder has not disappointed.

The other $400,000 plus race is the William Haughton Memorial, also at 1 1/8 miles.  This race lacks a superstar, but from top to bottom provides a very solid field.  If you’re a fan of horses that always try but don’t win, you have to root for Boston Red Rocks.  He finishes second all the time, including last week at the Meadowlands.  Earlier this year he finished second at Mohawk to Dr. J Hanover and all the “Doctor” did was race the fastest mile on Canadian soil in 1:46.4.  And, it wasn’t easy as Boston Red Rocks was right there on his heels.  “Rocks” has earned over $156,000 this year in his nine starts which show zero wins, five places and two shows.  Saturday could be his night to finally get into the win column, but he will have formidable foes for sure.

All Bets Off, Lyons Snyder, Rock N Roll World, Bettor’s Edge, Clear Vision, Dealt A Winner, Rockeyed Optimist, Check Six and Mel Mara have all paced sub 1:50 miles this year; if the track is right, look out as the winning time could dip under 1:48.

The Meadowlands Pace is the feature.  It is the scheduled for a 9:40 pm start time and will be broadcast live on SNY, the home for New York sports.  Huntsville is the morning line favorite and he will be the one that the wise guys will try to beat.  Who can beat him?  For starters, Talent Soup could; last week he romped in 1:48.4 over the Big M track and looked like he had plenty left in the tank.  The rest of the field is very good and features Downbytheseaside, which to me is the only other threat if everybody brings their A game.  The pace is not really a prep for the Pacing Triple Crown, but it is restricted for three-year-olds.  The Pacing Triple Crown is comprised of the Cane Pace, the Messenger Stakes and the Little Brown Jug with the Cane Pace kicking things off on Hambletionian Day.

Last year, Pace Day drew over 10,000 to the Big M and handled (all sources) over $4.2 million.  The attendance record of $42,612 will not be threatened, but today, the handle is bigger because of the easy access people have to wagering.  In today’s Harness racing world it is better to have an HD stream than it is to have freshly painted seats in the grandstand. Most people watch Harness racing to make some money and the better the online product is, the more they will watch and wager.  While tracks often lament over ways to get people to come to the track, they should be grateful that we—and they—live in an era that we do.  In the old days, you had to go to the track or go to a simulcast center; now, you watch and bet on your phone.  I don’t know what’s more frustrating to the modern Harness racing fan—lack of live tellers at the track or a grainy picture on your computer or phone?

Tracks like Yonkers and the Meadowlands have stellar online production with HD and clear views of the track.  On the other hand, the grain can still be seen by Saratoga Casino Hotel’s production.  In today’s world, that really is unacceptable.  Most tracks have a variety of ways to view their product.  At places like Yonkers and the Meadowlands, you can watch off of their website; for the others you go through your betting portal like Twin Spires, Capital OTB, Interbets or TVG.  I subscribe to a bunch just in case one is on the fritz.  For tracks like Freehold, which offer simulcasting when there is no live racing, one wonders how much longer that can last.  We know that Harness Racing skews to older men and we all assume that these guys never touch a computer, but eventually they will or sadly, will die.  When this happens, will anybody drive to Freehold in July to watch and bet on races when they can do it from the Smartphone?

I am getting off point here; the point is Saturday will be a great day for Harness racing.  We all know that Thoroughbred racing gets more attention, but how many cards at thoroughbred tracks are this good on a big day?  We know that Churchill Downs will load up stakes races on Derby Day, but what about Stephen Foster Handicap day?  Theirs is no way those cards are better than what you will get this Saturday or on August 5 on Hambletonian Day—not in any way, shape or form.

Saturday is one of racing’s big days—Meadowlands Pace Day and here’s hoping that the races live up to the hype.







We Need the Meadowlands!

July 12, 2017

Most harness tracks are buoyed by slots, the Meadowlands is not, but it remains the sport’s most important venue.

by John Furgele (The Objective 228)

Last Sunday was July 9 and believe it or not, the days are getting shorter.  Nobody in the Northeast likes to hear this of course, but it means that time continues to march on, regardless of our begging.  This Sunday also marks four weeks until the Hambletonian takes place at Meadowlands Racetrack.  We all know that harness racing divides its horses into pacers and trotters, so to say the Hambletonian is the biggest day of the year in Harness racing is a bit unfair to the pacers (who, by the way are faster), but it is in fact, a truth.

Both Horse and Harness racing have their ebbs and flows.  One thing both suffer from is a lack of a national organization/governing body.  There is no NHL, NBA, MLB, NBA or MLS for the horses, so each state does its own thing.  That said, we have the Hambletonian Society which governs the Hambletonian and the Breeders Crown, but we also have states that make their rules as well.  This results in the best horses competing in different parts of the country.

The Hambletonian, as we mentioned, has been contested at the Meadowlands since 1981.  It’s still the best track in America and still generates the highest handle of any Standardbred racetrack.  Sure there are problems; owner Jeffrey Gural insists in lengthy stays in detention barns for horses in an attempt to keep drugs out of the sport.  He can do that for races such as the Meadowlands Pace, which they govern, but the Hambletonian is not governed by him or his racetrack. Despite the squabbles it is a fabulous day of racing with 10 stakes races carded for August 5.  In addition to the Hambo, there is the Hambletonian Oaks, the Sam McKee U.S. Pacing Championship, the Cane Pace, the Doherty, the Haughton, the Shady Daisy, the Cashman, the Fresh Yankee and Lady Liberty—all in one day; impressive to say the least.

The Meadowlands Pace is set for Saturday, July 15, but because of the track’s detention policy, Fear the Dragon, the Pepsi North America Cup winner will not be competing.  The colt’s owner, Bruce Togdan doesn’t think the policy is fair; he called Meadowlands a “B” track.  Gural responded by defending the policy and was sure to point out that the Meadowlands suffers from lack of alternative gaming at the facility.  As we all know, Meadowlands purses are down, or put another way lower because there is no alternative gaming at the facility.  Yonkers, which is just 21 miles away, offers significantly higher purses which are supplemented by revenues derived from the Empire City Casino.

It is a quagmire to be sure.  Yonkers will have a $55,000 Open Handicap Pace on a Saturday night with $35,000 in handle while the Meadowlands will feature a $16,000 Open race and handle over $200,000.  Gural is quick to point out that he needs alternative gaming at the Meadowlands; a measure that was soundly defeated by New Jersey voters in last fall’s election.  The residents felt it was more important to limit casinos to Atlantic City and the result has been tough for the Meadowlands to swallow.

Some have called the 2017 Summer meet at the Big M, “Freehold Plus,” but the track, with its one mile oval continues to be the star.  There are more sub 1:50 paces and sub 1:52 trots there than anywhere else and as we know, bettors like the track and don’t seem to mind that the purses are lower as are the quality of the horses.  They want a race to be fair; a race where all horses have a shot not just those closest to the pylons.

If you’re a fan of Harness Racing, you need the Meadowlands to not just survive, but flourish.  Comparing it to Churchill Downs might be too strong, but its impact on the sport of Harness racing should never be overlooked.  We all know that Yonkers, Pocono and the other tracks are not going to show any sympathy for the Big M, and if the situation ever arises, the Hambletonian Society can always move its signature race to another venue.  The Breeders Crown moves around so why couldn’t the Hambletonian do the same?

I am not sure what the answer is?  Could there ever be VGMs at the Meadowlands?  They are machines and are not the same as table games played at the Atlantic City casinos.  Would Gural even want that?  He owns two harness tracks in New York State; he has VGMs at Vernon Downs and a full-fledged casino at Tioga.  Would he be happy with 1,000 gaming machines at the Meadowlands, or would he want more?

Voters seem to think the Gural should make do with wagering on horses.  Last fall, the proposal to amend the state constitution and allow casinos in Northern New Jersey failed badly by a 78% to 22% margin.  It cannot be proposed until 2018 at the earliest, but with numbers that bad, which state legislator would want to bring it up again?

It’s sad to see the Meadowlands struggle. This is the track that changed the game of Harness racing.  I’m sure the financials are better than Gural is telling us, because $2 million in handle is $2 million in handle and purses used to be based on handle and handle alone.  Places like Yonkers have higher purses, but their purses are based on a proportion of revenues from the gaming machines.  Is that good or bad?  And, what happens if the New York State government alters those percentages? What if the gaming machines experience a sharp decline in revenues, or heaven forbid, what if they were taken out like they were in Canada’s Fort Erie Racetrack?

In four weeks, Harness racing will be at its best.  It will be Hambletonian Day at the Meadowlands with 10 stakes races, a huge handle and over 20,000 people in attendance.  The sport will look great, it will shine, but how many fans will make Hambletonian Day the only day that they attend or even pay attention to Harness racing?  There are many that think Harness racing needs to do a better job of marketing itself; of trying to get the 20 and 30 somethings to come back to the track more than once a year.  What can be done?  The horsemen want every available dollar spent on purses, but the only way to generate more handle is to get more people to bet on the races.  It’s a double-edged sword and is something that many tracks still haven’t figured out.

I still think the sport sells itself.  Seeing eight to ten pacers/trotters competing against each other should be enough and I think millennials should be able to relate to it.  They don’t want to watch three plus hour baseball games or basketball games.  They can go to You Tube and watch all the key plays in five to seven minutes.  A horse race should cater to their mindsets.  The time in between should cater to their anticipation, but we know that isn’t what’s happening.

The Hambletonian is a great day, but it shouldn’t be the only great day.