Sports Outside the Beltway

Kentucky horse racing ‘in serious jeopardy’

Say it ain’t so. From

Under the backdrop of an empty paddock at Churchill Downs, officials of Kentucky racetracks–including The Red Mile’s president and CEO Joe Costa–gathered for a press conference Wednesday afternoon to plead their case for expanded gaming in the Bluegrass State.

In making his comments at the Louisville track which was closed Wednesday for live racing after a request to cut one day from its weekly schedule was granted by the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission, Costa noted that Standardbred racing “is the canary in the coal mine,” noting that between The Red Mile, Thunder Ridge and Player’s Bluegrass Downs there are just 76 days of live harness racing in the state in 2009.

Costa used a college basketball analogy in comparing Kentucky’s plight against neighboring states which have expanding gaming at its tracks. Costa posed the question to the crowd of about 150–which included major media outlets from across the state including Lousville and Lexington and several horsemen including Bernard “Chip” Wooley, the trainer of Kentucky Derby winner Mine That Bird and veteran trainer Bernard Flint–that universities such as the University of Louisville and the University of Kentucky would not be able to compete on the basketball court if they were unable to offer scholarships as schools such as Duke, North Carolina and Kansas are.

Bob Evans, president of Churchill Downs, bluntly stated, “If you think it’s bad now, it’s only going to get worse.” Evans then added, “The time to act is now. We simply can’t wait any longer. All we are looking for is to pass a simple piece of legislation.”

Even if the tracks get the legislation they want, it hardly guarantees horse racing in Kentucky will survive. As we’ve seen in case, after case, after case, slots and other types of gambling don’t draw sufficient people to race tracks to keep them operating as their owners hoped and planned to.

I love horse racing myself, but can understand why most people have little interest in going to the track. You watch a race for two minutes, then basically do nothing other than handicap the next race and place your bet till the next post time that isn’t for another 20-30 minutes. Simulcasts from other tracks help to fill the time, but the number of people in the United States who enjoy the ‘Sport of Kings’ any more is continues to dwindle. I’m not optimistic about the future of horse racing.


Rosecroft Raceway ceases operations

The Maryland racetrack near Washington D.C. discontinued live harness racing nine months ago. From

Just days before the Kentucky Derby, Rosecroft Raceway, which hasn’t had live harness racing in nearly a year, was ordered to cease operations by the Maryland Racing Commission on April 28, thereby losing substantial income from simulcasting Thoroughbred racing.

The track suspended live racing in 2008 saying that harness racing could return next year depending on what happens with slot machines in Maryland. Located near Washington D.C., Rosecroft had been open every day and night for continuous Thoroughbred and harness racing simulcasting.

On April 26, a new revenue-sharing agreement between Rosecroft and Thoroughbred interests called for the harness track to pay the Thoroughbred industry about $5.9 million a year for the right to simulcast Thoroughbred racing. Because of its location, Rosecroft is a major in-state outlet for simulcasts and the live Maryland Jockey Club (MJC) product at Laurel Park and Pimlico Race Course.

In a release, the MJC said Rosecroft owes about $2 million so far this year to the MJC, Maryland Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association, and Maryland Horse Breeders Association. The MJC indicated Rosecroft officials would not or could not pay the money, so the racing commission pulled its Thoroughbred simulcast rights. Harness simulcasts are allowed to continue.

When I blogged last year, I said I would be surprised if live racing ever took place Rosecroft again. I proved to be correct, horse racing won’t return and I’m afraid horse racing could be extinct in the United States within fifty years.

Update- Rosecroft was granted a temporary stay. This will enable the track to simulcast Saturday’s Kentucky Derby.


Harness horse driver Dave Magee wins 11,000th race

Only five other drivers have reached that milestone. From

Hall of Famer Dave Magee became only the sixth driver in North American harness racing history to record 11,000 driving victories when he guided Capture The Magic to a head decision in the 13th race at Balmoral Park Saturday night).

The always humble 55 year old, who has been a staple on the Chicago Standardbred circuit for decades, once again shrugged off his latest record setting accomplishment.

“When I was driving at the Amherst fair in Wisconsin back in the early ’70s I never would have dreamed about putting up numbers like this or having a career that would be this successful,” said Magee. “It’s just by the grace of God and all the people I’ve worked for and driven for over the years that I’m in this spot.”

Magee, who also boasts career earnings of more than $88.2 million which ranks him 11th all time, joins Herve Filion, Dave Palone, Tony Morgan, Cat Manzi and Walter Case Jr. as the only North American drivers to hit the 11,000 mark.

I’ve seen Manzi and Filion drive and maybe Case. Cat man and I are cousins but if we ever met it was 30 plus years ago.


Harness Driver Dave Palone celebrates birthday by driving 7 winnners

Were there seven birthday candles on his cake too? From

Dave Palone celebrated his 47th birthday in style on Friday at The Meadows, driving seven winners on the 14-race card, including a sweep of the three divisions of the Early Call, a late-closing series for 3- and 4-year-old filly and mare pacers. Ron Burke trains all three division winners, giving him a sweep as well.

The fastest time of the three $12,000 opening leg divisions was turned in by JK Reunited, who endured a parked-out first panel yet scored in 1:55.2 by a widening 3-1/2 lengths. Playful Terror rallied from well back to be second while Gentle Dragon saved show. Sylvia Burke, Weaver Bruscemi LLC, JJK Stables and M1 Stable own JK Reunited, a 4-year-old daughter of Bettor’s Delight-JK On Broadway.

Star Of India and Serenity Hanover took the other series splits.

The $25,000 Preferred Handicap Pace was the icing on the cake for Palone, who worked out an effective cover trip for Beau Rivage N from post position eight. Beau Rivage N earned his second straight victory in the Preferred, prevailing by a head in 1:53.2. Biletnikoff and It’sjustabeginning finished in a dead heat for place.

I doubt any of the races were gifts from the other drivers. What will Pallone do when he turns 50?


Two yearlings named for NJ state legislators

Too bad trotters and pacers don’t race at Churchill Downs*. From

Two Perretti Farms yearlings have been named in honor of New Jersey state legislators Jennifer Beck and Joseph Malone.

Beckretariat, named for Senator Beck [R-12], who is from Red Bank, NJ, is a pacing filly by Rocknroll Hanover out of the broodmare Sweet Smilin’ Lady.

Muscles Malone, named for Assemblyman Malone [R-30] of Bordentown, NJ, is a son of trotting stallion Muscles Yankee and out of the broodmare Malexandria.

Both yearlings were bred at Perretti Farms in Cream Ridge, NJ and, according to Perretti spokesman Bob Marks, they will both be for sale in the fall. (NJ SBOA)

How long before a yearling is named Super Obama? There was a famous trotter named Super Bowl 30 years ago.

*- I was making a joke. Churchill Downs is not named after Winston Churchill.


Florida horsemen say 2009 racing meet will end 3 months early

Could harness racing in Florida be permanently kaput as early as May 2nd 2009?

The Florida Standardbred Breeders and Owners Association (FSBOA) has issued a press release stating that the Isle Casino at Pompano has asked the state of Florida to approve a reduction in the number of Standardbred racing days for the 2008-2009 race meet from 160 to 140.
In addition, the FSBOA release noted that the Isle Casino at Pompano Park confirmed that they have applied for a summer Quarter Horse license. There had been previous reports that Pompano Park was applying for a summer Quarter Horse license.

Also, the FSBOA release said that the Standardbred meet will end on May 2, 2009, instead of the original schedule of Aug. 2, as advertised on the stall application. The FSBOA also said Steve Wolf, Director of Racing at Pompano, told the horsemen in a memo that the stable area and the grooms quarters must be vacated by May 10, 2009. This includes all horses (400–800) and all personal property. Anything left behind will be discarded by management.

“This change will have a devastating effect on Standardbred racing in Florida. It will not only put the breeding and Florida Sire Stakes programs in grave danger, it could spell the end of harness racing in Florida,” said the FSBOA press release.

I don’t know if what the FSBOA is saying is true or if they’re doing a impersonation of Chicken Little ‘Harness racing is falling. Harness racing is falling.’ The Sun-Sentinel based out of Fort Lauderdale, less than ten miles from Pompano Park, hasn’t
reported a word on the state of local harness racing this year.

What I do know, is that horse racing is a precarious situation at present. One being made worse by the current economic situation. I’ve written more multiple times about the economic difficulties ‘The Sport of Kings’ has faced of late. It is my worse fear that the sport will be extinct or close to it in as little as ten years.


Harness driver Yannick Gingras donates Friday earnings to Toys For Tots

The French Canadian horseman ranks #8 in North American earnings for 2008. From

A charitable pledge proved to be good luck for driver Yannick Gingras on Friday night at the Meadowlands as he landed in the winner’s circle twice after announcing he would donate his earnings for the night to the track’s annual Toys For Tots drive for the United States Marine Corps.

By the end of the 12-race card, Gingras had picked up checks in seven races and earned $1,436 for the charity. Purse money is paid out to the top five finishers in a race; harness drivers receive five percent of a horse’s earnings.

Gingras netted $600 as he piloted Go On BB to a 1:52.4 victory in the $24,000 preferred mare pace, race three, for trainer Ronnie Burke and owner Frank Baldachino of Clarksburg, N.J. He was back in the winner’s circle a race later with longshot Levitys Pride in a $14,000 conditioned trot, adding another $350 to the donation. Gingras also picked up checks in five other races with Crystal Bliss (second, $175) in the first, Rusty Again (third, $68) in the fifth, Victors Vicky (fourth, $96) in the ninth, No Money No Fun (fifth, $35) in the 11th and The Maniac (third, $78) in the 12th.

“I read on the web site earlier this week that they were having Toys for Tots Night and that you could also give money (in addition to toys),” Gingras said, “so I decided to donate my five percent earnings tonight just for the kids. I’ve been really lucky with my children. They are both healthy. We’re lucky in life, my wife and I, so I decided to give something back.”

Gingras and his wife, trainer Vicki Mosher, have a 3-year-old son, Jaiden, and 11-month-old daughter, Addison. The 29-year-old Quebec native is a third generation horsemen who now resides in Freehold, N.J. He has ranked among the Top 10 drivers since he began driving full-time at the Meadowlands in 2004. Gingras currently ranks eighth in earnings among all drivers in North America with $9.5 million through Dec. 12.

Thank you for generosity Yannick. I am sure you made some children very happy.


Harness horse trainer/driver Brooke Nickells injured in fall from her riding horse

The accident took place in Northern Florida.

Brooke Nickells is recovering in Delray Beach, Florida, from a fall from her riding horse that left her with three cracks in her pelvis and a broken right wrist. According to her father, trainer Bruce Nickells, “she coming real good, and her doctor said ‘it won’t be any problem, it just takes time to heal and don’t worry about your wrist, it will be as good as new.’”

The accident happened Saturday, Nov. 22, at Sunshine Meadows training center where Brooke had come south from her home in Indiana for the winter to help her father with training. She spent six days in the Delray Medical Center before being transferred to a Heartland rehabilitation center. “I think she’ll be out of here in a couple more days,” Nickells said of his daughter.

I’ve written about Brooke and her mother previously. Her father, Bruce Nickells, was driver/trainer and part owner of race horses my father also owned. Get well Brooke. I hope you are back in the sulky soon.


Canadian owned horse Shadow Play wins the Little Brown Jug

The Jug is the Kentucky Derby equivalent for standardbred pacers. From the Calgary Herald-

Harness Racing – Canadian owned and trained Shadow Play won the 63rd Little Brown Jug harness race on Thursday in Delaware, Ohio.

The three-year-old pacer was the 3-5 favourite to win the $551,225 US event and made short work of the field, winning the first elimination heat and then capturing the title in the second heat in the final. He paid $3.20, $2.20 and $2.10.

The victory was worth $161,693 for the owners, which included former Montreal Canadiens player and executive Serge Savard. Ian Moore of Charlottetown, who also trains Shadow Play, and a group from Bathurst, N.B., hold an ownership stake as well.

The final portion of harness racing’s Triple Crown is the Messenger Stakes in Yonkers, N.Y., on Oct. 25. has more details about Shadow Play’s victory.

Shadow Play led from start to finish to win the second and deciding heat of the $551,225 Little Brown Jug Thursday at the Delaware, Ohio fairgrounds, posting a 1:50.1 finish for driver David Miller, the second Jug victory for the Ohio native. The combined time with his elim victory of 1:50 established a new world mark for two heats.

When my father’s horse named Fast Clip raced in the Jug in 1972, the winner Strike Out went in a then world record 156.3 for a pacer on a half mile track. More than six seconds have been shaved off that mark in 36 years.

Drawing post one among the three elimination winners, Miller took control from the outset, with Lonestar Legend and driver Dave Palone taking the two hole and Art Official and Ron Pierce sitting third. The three elimination winners stayed that way through an opening quarter of :28 and then Pierce tipped Art Official to the outside.

As Pierce ranged up first-over with Art Official, Miller took a peak back and kept Shadow Play to his task, reaching the half in :56.1 and three quarters in 1:23.4. Art Official began to tire around the final turn, and the dash was on to the wire.

Shadow Play drew clear from Lonestar Legend by 6 1/4 lengths, while Art Official managed to hold onto third. For driver Miller, the win was his first Jug victory since 2003 with No Pan Intended. The win almost didn’t come about as trainer Ian Moore contemplated scratching the colt after he came up sore in a front foot following his elim victory. He made a shoeing change and decided to send Shadow Play behind the gate.

In 1972, Jay Time was scratched after being raced hard in the first heat of the Jug. The horse’s owners and driver/trainer Gene Reigle worried for the horse’s health.

Shadow Play isn’t the first Canadian owned horse to win the Jug. Strike Out was Canadian owned also, it may have happened other times between 1973 and 2007.


Heavy rains close Pompano Park for a night

What the heck?

Due to heavy rains in the Pompano Beach area during the late afternoon hours, and with the forecast calling for additional downpours in the vicinity, Pompano Park cancelled its live racing for Friday.

Florida gets heavy rains all the time. Horse racing takes place in bad weather(With the exception of lightning), on the surface this news makes little sense. Except that Pompano Park is cutting its racing dates. It looks like the addition of the Racino will only provide a slight reprieve before harness racing dies out in South Florida.


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