May 8 2008
Two Ideas to Reshape Racing
I need to preface this letter by saying that I realize that there is far more chance of my becoming the first geriatric to walk on the moon than there is of my suggestions being implemented by our industry. Nevertheless - here goes!!
Years ago Dr John Hayes publicly stated that it’s not a question of IF but rather of WHEN an organization such as PETA grabs on to the horse racing industry and either pickets it or otherwise institutes serious barriers to its continuance and working order.
In view of the recent Kentucky Derby tragedy, it appears that time is if not imminent, is in serious danger of becoming so. There have been numerous appearances in the media by representatives of both PETA and other animal advocacy groups complaining about horse racing and what they feel is the animal abuse related to it. There is a saying that "adversity often creates opportunity". I believe that our industry can significantly benefit both from a PR perspective and also from the view of attracting more fans by implementing my two proposals.
(1) Ban the use of whips in races, or as an alternative allow them to be carried and only used as a safety measure. I have been in this business that I love for the better part of a half century. My three adult children have never known a time when they were not around horses. They love horses, yet they don't particularly like horse racing. The reason is they hate to see horses beaten. I have tried to explain to them that it isn't near as bad as it might sometime look. I think I believe this but I'm honestly not sure. I know that they don't.
If kids who have known horses and horse racing all of their lives think that we are capable of brutalizing the wonderful animals from which their father has made a good part of their lives possible, then how can we possibly expect to attract newcomers who often are repulsed by what they first see on the racetrack? I know all the reasons why drivers, trainers and some owners think whips are necessary. I also know that racing takes place successfully in some areas without the use of the whip.
(2) Ban the use of ALL pre race medication. This should include lasix, bute, banamine and all other drugs. Are they performance enhancers? Perhaps not, but they do mask pain. Masking pain allows a horse to do things which at a point in time they are not physiologically capable of doing and sometime can lead to significant if not catastrophic injuries. ESPN's racing analyst Randy Moss (not the football player) has often said that North America is the only racing venue which allows such liberal pre race treatment. He strongly advocates both the abolishment of the whip and the use of all pre race drugs.
I've often been accused of being a dreamer, a Pollyanna or trying to emulate Don Quixote. If so, I plead guilty as charged. However I hate to see the further deterioration of one the world's greatest sports knowing (or thinking that I know) of ways to improve its stature.
Murray Brown, Hanover, Pa.
PS- Relative to the above mentioned Dr. John Hayes, I strongly believe that his is one of our greatest and sadly our most under utilized minds. But I guess that's a topic for another time and place.
May 6 2008
ORC’s Response To Pat Ryan Letter
In Ontario, the horse racing community has chosen to support what it does better than any other jurisdiction, its Ontario Sires Stakes Program. Moving forward, the Ontario Racing Commission will continue to work with the industry to find new ways to improve the Program, and to improve the conditions for Ontario breeders, who are vital to the success of our industry.
First of all, let me congratulate Mr. Ryan on the success of the three-year-old filly that he bred, Western Graduate. His letter has sparked much discussion on the merits of breeding in Ontario as opposed to breeding in Pennsylvania and it is evident that there is still some confusion as to how OSS Breeders’ Rewards will be paid out beginning in 2008.
Mr. Wilson has come to the defence of the Ontario Sires Stakes program and there are only two words I would add to his statement.
“An Ontario breeder of a horse that wins $420,000 in the 2008 OSS program would receive at least $63,000 in Breeders’ Awards”.
The ORC oversees and administers the Ontario Sires Stakes Program, which falls under the bigger umbrella of the Horse Improvement Program. Yes, we have been looking at ways to improve the Program and, yes, we have been making decisions where there have been funds available to do so.
With the completion of the Review of the Horse Improvement Program in 2007, which involved many members of the associations and the industry at large, the Board of the Ontario Racing Commission approved the recommendation for an enhanced Breeders’ Program. The new Breeders’ Rewards Program approved for 2008 more than doubles the amount available to the Breeders.
A major component of the new Breeders’ Rewards is the Ontario Mare Residency Program, which will be in place for foals of 2009 and later. Please note the Mare Residency Program has no affect on which horses can race in the OSS Program. The OSS is, and continues to be, a series of races for Ontario sired horses. Any foal sired by an OSS registered stallion is eligible to race for the lucrative OSS purses. The Ontario Mare Residency Program only affects which breeders will receive Breeders’ Rewards.
Starting in 2011 when the first foals under the Mares Residency Program are competing in the OSS, the Breeders’ Rewards will only be paid to the breeders of horses earning money in OSS races where the horse is out of an Ontario Resident Mare.
In the meantime, Breeders’ Rewards for foals of 2006, 2007 and 2008 will be paid as follows:
a) All breeders, regardless of residency, will receive a Breeders’ Reward equal to 7% of all OSS earnings for any OSS horses bred by them.
b) In addition, an amount equal to 8% of all OSS purses will be available as an Ontario Breeder Bonus and will be split among all Ontario breeders whose horses earn money in the Program.
This means that the breeder of a horse earning $420,000 in OSS purse money will receive $29,400 (7% of the horse’s OSS earnings). If the breeder is Ontario based, they will be entitled to at least an additional $33,600 (8% of all OSS purses) for a total of $63,000. Keep in mind that not all horses in the OSS Program will have been bred by Ontario breeders, therefore the 8% of all OSS purses will split among fewer people providing a higher amount to the Ontario breeders. Given that the number of Ontario breeders will not be known until the end of the season, no exact figures can be calculated now as to how much that amount will be. But it will be at least $63,000.
Ontario has chosen to support what it does better than any other jurisdiction, its Ontario Sires Stakes Program.
The ORC continues to work with the industry to find additional funds for the Horse Improvement Program that will allow all of the recommendations proposed under the Review to be approved. To view the recommendations, we encourage you to go to the ORC website to see the details at www.ontarioracingcommission.ca. The Final Report on the Review will be issued shortly.
If anyone has any questions about the OSS program, please contact myself or Karen Hauver, OSS Administration Coordinator, at 519 369-3545 or by e-mail at email@example.com .
Director, Industry Development and Support
Ontario Racing Commission
May 3 2008
The Grass Could Be Greener In Ontario
The reality is, an Ontario breeder of a horse that wins $420,000 in the 2008 OSS program would receive $63,000 in Breeders awards. I'm not even sure that a horse could win $420,000 in the Pennsylvania Sire Stakes program.
Regardless, each program has its strengths and weaknesses. I'm breeding in both jurisdictions but keeping my mares in Ontario because I don't want to pay the much increased board fees in Penn and because of the uncertainty of what the Breeders Awards are on a horse by horse basis in the Penn program.
In my view, for a good horse from an Ontario RESIDENT MARE, racing in 2008 in the OSS program will give markedly superior returns for both owner and breeder to any other Sire Stakes program in NA. That may not be true for the total dollars in the program or from a mare resident somewhere else but I believe that it will be so for the individual winning horse from an Ontario RESIDENT MARE.
We Canadians tend to believe that the grass is always greener elsewhere, we still have the best program in the world, all we need to do now is to convince yearling buyers that that is the case and breed the best horses to go along with it.
"You pays your money and you make your choice", and that IS fair!
Mike Wilson. Rockwood Ontario
More On Pa Breeders’ Program
I read with interest Pat Ryan's letter with regard to the breeder's award cheque he received as being the breeder of Western Graduate. The Pennsylvania program is indeed unique and is an admirable boost to Pennsylvania equine agriculture as well as an incentive for land preservation in the Keystone State.
It’s important to understand that the recipients of cheques for the years prior to the establishment and enforcement of criteria for the breeders’ awards are not based on the same requirements as those for subsequent years.
In order that there is no misunderstanding I would suggest that those planning to breed and/or raise foals in Pennsylvania contact Gerry Connors, director of the Pennsylvania Breeders Fund at firstname.lastname@example.org to secure the necessary information in order to avoid any possible misunderstandings.
Murray Brown, Hanover, Pa.
Warmed Over Breeders Awards
Further to the letter posted yesterday regarding the breeders’ award cheque from Pennsylvania - in 2008, if a horse wins $420,000 in the Ontario Sires Stakes, the Breeders Awards will be $63,000.
Mike Wilson, Rockwood, Ontario
May 1 2008
Pennsylvania Makes A Point
In the wake of the discussion that continues about changes to the Ontario Sire Stakes program I felt it would be interesting for the readers of The Harness Edge to learn about an experience I just had with the Pennsylvania Sires Stakes.
Last week I received a breeders’ award cheque in the amount of $42,000 as my reward for having bred the pacing mare Western Graduate. Most people know that she won the Jugette and had quite a successful year earning $455,675.
However, few would know that I sold her for (US) $40,000 as a yearling and was upset all the way home from the Harrisburg sale. By my calculations, she represented a loss of $15,000. There was a $25,000 service fee to Western Hanover, board, foaling costs, sale entry fee and commissions that made it a losing proposition. I was devastated.
It was not until last fall when I received a letter from the Pennsylvania Sires Stakes people telling me that if I filled out an enclosed form that I would eligible for breeders awards. At that time I figured it would be around five percent like Ontario but could not get an exact figure from their office. Truthfully, I was not up to speed on just how their scheme worked.
When the cheque arrived in the mail I had to count the decimal point to see that it was indeed $42,000 and not $4,200, which was closer to what I anticipated. That got me out of the hole and more. Needless to say I am very impressed with Pennsylvania.
It would be my suggestion to the Ontario Sires Stakes people that they have to make a serious change at the end of this season, which should have been done last year when all the discussion was taking place. A warmed over change is not going to make any difference in so far as breeders are concerned. As a breeder I can say there just simply is no comparison between the two programs.
I want to stress that Ontario still has a good sires stakes program just not for breeders. There are a lot of people out there consistently losing money breeding horses. If they cannot make it in the sales ring they have to get some help elsewhere, that being rewarded by the performance of their horses on the racetrack.
In comparison let’s take an Ontario sired performer who made comparable money and one that comes to mind is Somebody To Love. She won $420,000 last season, which is close enough. Her big accomplishment was finishing second in the Breeders Crown. In checking I discovered that her breeder Docs Farm of Florida received approximately $10,000 for her accomplishments. I wonder how that breeder will feel when he reads this letter.
As it so happens I am breeding Countryview Miss to Western Ideal who stands in New Jersey this year but she is carrying another Western Hanover foal. But this experience with that Pennsylvania program has led me to rethink my future breeding plans.
Ontario has to double its return to breeders. There are a declining number of us left and it will further diminish unless serious change is implemented. It’s a mature program that needs some retooling and I suggest you gate keepers of the OSS get to it.
Pat Ryan, London, Ontario
April 27 2008
On Friday night Steve Condren achieved another milestone in his illustrious career, becoming only the eighth driver in history to surpass $100 million in earnings. He has done so without fanfare, along with a professionalism, that as I trainer I admire.
Steve, in my opinion has never received the recognition he deserves. Great job Steve and continued success.
John Kopas, Milton, Ontario
April 3 2008
MacDonell Deserves Success
Great interview with Paul MacDonell on this week’s "On The Edge." Paul is all class! He is very easy to root for. He seems to handle the spotlight very well and stands by the decision to put Somebeachsomewhere away early.
I hope the spotlight shines very bright on Paul who not only is a great driver, but that much greater as a person. This sport needs heroes like him. Best of luck to him and Somebeachsomewhere.
Chris Alexander, Aurora, Ontario
April 1 2008
What About Whipping Infractions?
Jess Frederick, you forgot to mention the slow motion replays down to the wire where we also see whipping on or below the level of the sulky shaft and between horses legs. Last time I checked my rulebook, these were violations too.
Drivers Are Pulling Ear Plugs
The drivers are not kicking the horses or they would be fined.
What you are seeing, or not able to see due to the distance from the horses at Woodbine, is the driver pulling the pop out ear plugs that are tied to be maneuvered with their foot.
Judges Need To Wake Up
Harness racing keeps crying about how many fans have stopped wagering on the sport.
Look no further than the judges stands at racetracks to figure out why.
I've called the judges at Woodbine a number of times with regards to the number of drivers that get their feet out of the stirrups and kick horses, and I have yet to see a fine for these violations.
I spoke with a judge Craig Walker, and he proceeded to tell me that the driver's foot was slipping out of the stirrup because it was a snowy night. I found it odd that the foot only came out when the driver was in a contending position and it only seemed to slip out in the stretch.
Another driver did the same thing the following night, and I spoke with judge Doug Hopkins. He said they would review the films and deal with it if there was an infraction.
Once again, there was nothing done about it.
Only a handful of drivers do this on an ongoing basis, and I want to know why they are allowed to get away with it? By dropping their feet out of the stirrups, they are gaining an unfair advantage when they kick a horse, and this is clearly what they are doing.
I even wrote a letter to the Ontario Racing Commission, but I haven't heard any type of a response to my questions and concerns.
At first, it was just three or four guys that were doing it, but now there are others following suit because they know the judges aren't doing their job.
I've got news for you, it is about time you started protecting bettors like me by cracking down on these guys that continue to break the rules. And this is just one the many problems that needs to be addressed.
Bettors are becoming extinct, so you'd better look after the ones that continue to have an interest in playing the game.
Jess Frederick, Toronto, Ontario
February 21 2008
Sell The Sizzle
I have read Mr. Karper's letter on increasing wagering at Canadian Racetracks by reducing takeout. Due to the proliferation of Triactor and Superfecta wagering today as well as the numerous Pick 3s, Pick 4s, Pick 6s, and Pick 7s this is difficult to do.
The biggest problem in horse racing is the huge reduction in total live wagering due to a proliferation of simulcast racing. Wagering on simulcast racing is great for the fan, however, it means the track and subsequently the horsemen are left with less than 50 per cent of their normal takeout after paying the high costs associated with simulcasting. In a lot of cases the track takeout on simulcasting is only five or six per cent after expenses.
Right now every simulcast dollar reduces total live wagering which in turn reduces daily takeout. This is why I have always believed, since the implementation of simulcasting, that tracks need to combine their race cards with other tracks. Tracks short of horses would no longer have a problem. Each track could have agreements to keep their total live onsite wager which would provide the impetus for each track's marketing department to do a great job.
What keeps racing fans interested is action, plain and simple. This is what drives people to the one armed bandits and card games. Constant action. I have been in Woodbine's Racino four times and have wagered a total of $20. I didn't have a clue how to play most of the games and there was no one around to explain them to me. Sounds a lot like racing for the novice fan doesn't it?
In today’s world marketing a live product where customers are forced to wait 20 to 30 minutes until the next live race makes as much sense as a screen door on a submarine. Just once I would love to see Woodbine and the Big M combine their race cards, offering fans 24 races each day with 12 live races at each track. Imagine, 24 races to wager on, 12 races to pay purses on, one channel on the television monitors to watch both tracks on, the same amount of time taken to run the 24 races as twelve races and on program.
By offsetting post times fans would have a live race to wager on every ten minutes and horsemen would still have 20 minutes to warm up at each track. Windsor could combine with Hazel Park, Western Fair with Grand River, Flamboro with Georgian Downs, Georgian Downs with Northfield on Saturday nights and Kawartha Downs with Rideau Carleton Raceway.
I enjoy going to Woodbine a great deal. What I do not enjoy is sitting down in front of a wall of television monitors on Saturday night with races coming from Santa Anita, Lonestar, Mountaineer, Balmoral, Fraser Downs, Georgian Downs, Northfield Park and the Meadowlands. The only thing I want at that time is a bottle of aspirin and a drink, strictly for medicinal purposes of course. After the third race another drink is needed and if the Leafs are playing the drink needs to be a double. Personally, I end up totally exhausted by the fifth race and ready to go home.
Sell the sizzle. It is worth it every time. Good luck, good racing.
February 13 2008
Drugs Aren’t Just In Horses
I have been a harness fan for over 40 years and if you take the number of times that I have seen the races live over this period and placed a body at the track you would have great live attendance. But in recent years attending live is somewhat agony for me because of the never ending stories about this driver or that driver on pills or drugs and with the number of races I've seen no one can tell me that this is not true.
I am not trying to be judge nor jury, but I truly believe that this problem is fact and not enough is being done to prevent it. All the bells and whistles from each track’s marketing department are just that, a new coat of paint on a rusted car it looks good but needs repairing.
Of all the good things the people of the industry do to help others and in some cases those who have no association with harness racing, I know that help is there, they just have to take the first step.
And repeat offenders after numerous substance abuse offenses for either alcohol or drugs should be banned. For all the negative press the industry gets true or false it is always the trainers using banned substances that is in the headlines. The harness industry means just that, it has to encompass every horse, owner, trainer, driver and racetrack.
Bob Adams, Toronto, Ontario
February 11 2008
No Need For Safety Lines
Further to the recent announcement by the Ontario Racing Commission regarding safety lines, it is my opinion that this rule is unnecessary and was made in response to a web poll conducted by Standardbred Canada. The poll would not have the same accuracy rate as a telephone poll.
I think before this rule is changed the ORC should have the Canadian Safety Association evaluate the safety factor of the lines being used. Or at least the ORC could have had tests conducted to see what the breaking point of the lines is.
If you calculate the number of horses that race on the WEG circuit you would find that lines were fastened to driving bits in the neighbourhood of 52,000 times. Even if safety lines were available we are still dealing with the human error factor.
I can think of a solution that would not cost anything and would have a side benefit as well. If the paddock judge would announce (four minutes to race 1,2,3, etc. for driver s to please attend their mounts) there would be sufficient time for the drivers to see that the lines are properly fastened. Also cell phones should be banned from the paddocks so that grooms are not using them when they should be working. Trainers and grooms could be required to take breathalizer tests as well to help eliminate human error.
I have been a driver and trainer for approximately 25 years and have had three problems with lines. Once I did not fasten a right line, once my groom did not fasten a right line and once my groom fastened the right line to the head halter. Now I check to see that the lines are properly fastened.
Keith Hastie, Priceville, Ontario
February 11 2008
Takeout Needs To Be Lowered
I believe that all of us in the harness racing industry are aware that wagering on our product is diminishing at a scary rate and has to be considered the number one concern for the sustainability of our sport.
Personally, I’ve come to the conclusion that the only chance that we have of increasing the current level of wagering would be to drastically decrease the “takeout”, from the current 15 to 30 per cent range down to five per cent, at least for a select group of “high rollers”.
To be eligible for this select group, one would have to prepay a $100 per race wager for a series of races (1 program or one week’s programs).
Of course, the handle would have to increase quite substantially in order to maintain the racetrack/horsemen income contribution from wagering. However, since most of the racetracks/horsemen in Canada currently depend on other revenue sources for the majority of their income, this potentially minor sacrifice would go a long way in assuring our survival.
The overall increase in wagering would demonstrate the viability and popularity of our sport to the governments, the press and the public. Also, ancillary revenue from food and programs would increase. Newspapers might be inclined to cover harness racing again in terms of Entries/Results and stories.
I’m ready to join the first group. I will guarantee a wager of $100 per race, for a period of time to be determined, at the first “A” or “B” track to offer this five per cent takeout to me across the board.
Rick Karper, Montreal
February 7 2008
Next Step For Burgess Hall Of Fame
Congratulations, Blair Burgess! Your second recognition as Canada's Trainer of the Year is fully deserved, although a little late in coming.
The first decade of the new millennium has been dominated by your training exploits: two Horses of the Year in both Canada and the U.S., a North America Cup; two Hambletonians, a trotting Triple Crown, a Little Brown Jug, two Breeders Crowns, a Valley Victory, and a Meadowlands Pace amongst many other stakes wins.
Others may choose to race more horses, more often in lesser class races, but your abilities to point a horse towards the elite races and produce champions, has brought you to the pinnacle of our sport.
In this day and age where trainers specialize in one gait or the other, your achievements with both pacers and trotters make you very special. In future years, people may well refer to you in the same class as Stanley Dancer, Bill Haughton, Del Miller and the man you have several busts of, Joe O'Brien.
Certainly one hopes that people recognize the magnitude of your accomplishments. I, for one, hope to be there, the day they induct you into Goshen's Hall of Fame.
Neal Cooper, Toronto, Ontario
December 28 2007,
I thought, with the turning of the calendar, I would jot down some thoughts for harness racing in 2008. I'm optimistic. I call it "rock bottom."
Huh? An optimistic letter entitled rock bottom?
Flip on an entertainment show and we might see a star du jour speaking of his trials with whatever it may be, and he will say "I had to hit rock bottom before I could change." I think 2008 in harness racing is the year we will hit rock bottom, change will occur, and the sport will place the wheels in motion to grow again.
I see a post on harnessdriver.com detailing that the Boxing Day handle for Woodbine hit an all time low. I see on the entry page for standardbredcanada.ca that handle for Canadian racing is down over $100M in 2007. I see tracks cutting some dates. I see tracks cutting stakes. All bad news and it does not seem to be getting any better.
When we hit rock bottom in 2008 a few things will occur. Policies will finally be put in place that will encourage growth. These policies will not be piece-meal, nor pay lip service, like we seem to see all too often. They will be real, tough and they will change the sport as we know it.
Customers will be appreciated. They will be able to bet harness racing from anywhere in the world at an affordable price. New five per cent takeout bets will be the norm, they will be promoted with vigor and Thoroughbred players will cross over to our sport for the value. Pools will be bigger. Excitement will reign.
New bets will be introduced. Legislation will be lobbied for to get these new bets into convenience stores, just like lotteries. The bets, and racing will be promoted on the Internet, on TV and in print. Someone will hit a five million dollar win in 2008 with these new bets, and the word-of-mouth will be deafening. Gambling chat boards on the Internet will talk about harness racing. They won't be talking about a boring sport whose days are numbered. They will be talking about the new harness bet that has the gambling world buzzing. And they will want to be a part of it.
New money from new owners will be attracted by promoting clean racing, and these new owners will be introduced to a sport that is not filled with infighting, or two year long appeals from suspect trainers that make them scratch their heads and want to buy a stock instead - they will be attracted to the joy and exhilaration of owning a harness horse. These new owners will bring in a new culture of racing. They will buy horses and race for the sport of it, for the love of competition and the love of horses. And they will want to do it honestly, just like they do in their own businesses. It will be the main focus for this new breed of owner. It will catch fire.
Horseman's groups and tracks will negotiate new deals. When sitting down across each other at a table, they will not concern themselves with protecting their dwindling slices and fighting over them. They will concentrate on one thing and one thing only: Growing the sport by increasing handles.
A new breed of racetrack executive will be hired. He or she will focus on handles first and foremost. Live handles to be exact. Distribution channels will be turned on their head. The internet will be embraced. Costs will be cut to bettors, the game will change from a low volume high margin one with few bettors, to a high volume low margin one with many bettors. Any savings will be passed on to customers to achieve more growth through reinvestment, not put into profits and purses. The sport will change from one who looks for protection as a monopoly, to one who competes, fights, scratches and claws for every betting dollar out there. We will grow into a perfectly competitive business and start growing on our own two feet.
In the end, we will grow. And grow, and grow.
So yes, we will hit rock bottom in 2008. And when we do, we should all do one thing: Smile.
Dean Towers, Toronto
December 21 2007,
More Questions On Aminorex
Some thoughts after the aminorex positives hearings are complete. Where does the industry go from here? I would suggest we need a complete review and overhaul if necessary of the regulatory bodies involved, including but not limited to methods, procedures and personnel and where needed in all areas changes should be made.
Perhaps even a neutral third party, maybe the Ombudsman of Ontario could and should be brought in since the issues involved are that great and the fallout didn't help an industry that is already struggling.
The individuals involved suffered greatly, no question, as did the entire sport of horse racing. I believe in fact that other trainers not directly involved suffered as well. How could they attract new clients or business? Presumably most are struggling just to keep their present clients in the game with the "perception" rightly or wrongly created that they were not competing on a level playing field.
We must hold those who control the fates of all those involved in racing to a greater standard than it would appear we have now. Regulators and officials who regularly tout the need for integrity and what methods they are taking to ensure it for the sport should themselves practice what they preach and a more open and transparent process may be what's needed.
If I'm wrong and everything was done properly and correctly I will be the first to stand up and withdraw my remarks and offer my sincerest apologies to all involved but the only way to answer a lot of the unanswered questions in this sorry saga is to shine the light on it all.
David Gilders, Peterborough, Ontario
November 25 2007,
Track It Proposal Should Go Further
Congratulations and a big "thank you" to Dave Stuart for his efforts to bring some sense to the availability of Track IT to members of Standardbred Canada. The new proposal appears to be an equitable and effective one that will encourage more members to become users of this valuable service. Hence, we will all become more knowledgeable in our decisions that affect our success in this industry. That will only help our industry to grow as well as become a viable choice for the public's support.
It was good to see that the voice of the membership is alive and well as was evident by the response to directors encouraging them to support Mr. Stuart's successful motion. Would it not be beneficial to the betting public on which we depend a great deal for our existence, to have a similarly affordable access to this program? At a time when we are seeing the bettors flowing to other venues, there must be some perks to attract them back to horse racing.
Also, there are still some issues regarding the so-called "ownership" of the data that Standarbred Canada gathers, maintains, programs and distributes to the public and the members.
Mr. Norman Hall's ability to access the data that he requires for his valuable breeding programs (Pedigree Guru and Globetrotter) should be re-instated. Until such time that Track IT offers the programs that Mr. Hall currently does, breeders large and small around the world are being done a disservice. It is my hope that Standardbred Canada will come to their senses regarding this situation as well.
Lynne Magee, Wingham, Ontario
Track It Vote Results Should Be On Website
Earl Lennox in his letter indicated that there was a recorded vote on the Track It resolution. He was helpful in explaining to members how they could receive the results of the vote.
In support of Mr. Lennox's suggestion I would propose Standardbred Canada publish the results of the recorded vote on their website as a service to the membership.
Mitch Murphy, PEI
November 24 2007,
Track It Voters Recorded
At the end of the first session the Standardbred Canada full board meeting yesterday, a long discussion took place over Dave Stuart's free Track It proposal. The final result was that passed was by a majority of approximately two to one of the board members in attendance. It is that Track It will be offered for $20.00 per year on top of your current membership (only if you want the service) giving users 125 credits per month instead of the current pricing of $365 per year for 500 credits per month. Information was provided by staff that approximately half of the present Track It subscribers use fewer than 125 credits per month.
All the votes on the proposed agenda order change to get the proposal on before 2008 budget discussions and the votes about Track It service were "recorded votes" meaning that the individual voters and the way they voted were recorded similar to parliamentary votes. The corporate secretary for Standardbred Canada, Caren Brown, recorded the votes. If you, as a member, want to know how your representative voted on the Track It proposal, you can request and will receive the voting tally from Ms. Brown.
Earl Lennox, Orton, Ont.
November 6 2007,
Where Is Money Coming From For HIP Proposals?
I recently read all the new proposals by the HIP (Horse Improvement Program) and everything looks pretty good, but it doesn’t explain where all this money will come from and what affect it will have on the overnight races.
I think these questions should be addressed before any changes are made.
Jim Ruhl, Tara, Ontario
November 1 2007,
Yes To Track It, No To Photo Licensing
Mr. Stuart has submitted a reasonable and fair proposal for consideration which would be good for all members if adopted, for all of the various reasons as sited by previous writers to this forum.
However be warned of the old adage: be careful what you wish for. My feeling is in order to fully offer this service to members as soon as they get their renewal there will probably be some kind of increase along with increases to all other fees ostensibly to cover the "costs" of providing the service to the membership.
However this may not be noticed since it is my belief that the fees for all memberships and services provided will be raised to cover the costs associated with the implementation of the new photo licensing. Wait a minute - who in the executive decided this was necessary to begin in the first place? Maybe the directors could and should kill this unnecessary program and with the savings give the members their Track-it.
As a previous letter so eloquently put it a "gold plated and bloated organization" isn't what is needed; ever increasing budgets and bureaucracy in all agencies and increased fees is doing nothing to help a struggling industry.
So directors when you vote; Vote Yes for Track-it and no on photo licensing.
David Gilders, Peterborough, Ontario
Time For SC To Return To Core Business
I support the proposal by David Stuart but why put limits on it? I agree with Mr. Towers - free for all, no restrictions. If they want to find a way to pay for this let them start cutting the frills.
Get rid of TROT altogether. We already have several excellent industry publications. Why is SC trying to compete against the private sector anyway? In so doing they are unfairly subsidizing their advertising rates with our membership dues. The industry has already lost the Harness Horse publication, which one is next, The Sportsman?, Harness Edge? As horse people we don’t need to double our advertising costs with ads in Trot and Hoof Beats to reach the people that are already being well served by existing trade publications. If Pierre (SC President Guillemette) wants a vehicle to send us a monthly letter let him do what Hanover Shoe Farms does. They know how to get the word out in an effective and efficient manner with their newsletter.
Then there are other "money making" attempts. Horse sales, data sales, bus trips to special events, all subsidized by the membership to cater to the few that can afford to participate. SC should get back to doing its core business and that is maintaining the registry of Standardbreds in Canada and providing direct and equal service to "all" of its members in a cost effective and efficient manner. We don't need the gold plated and bloated organization we have today. In a time when the number of horses and members has dropped 50 per cent since its peak years we have seen a doubling or more in the staff of Standardbred Canada, and that’s with all the wonders of technology to help make them more efficient.
It looks to me that all these people in SC that are not directly involved in the core business of the registry are paying for their salaries by dreaming up more cash grabs from the membership. We don’t need SC to compete in the provision of services to the industry that are already provided by the private sector. We all know how much more efficient the private sector is than institutions, whether it is SC or government.
It is time to have the directors take back control and refocus their efforts on serving the needs of all the members, not stroking the egos of the administration. There seems to be more than a few of the current directors who prefer to fawn over the ones signing the cheques and booking their hotel rooms in Toronto rather than serving the interests of their true constituents. It’s election time, vote accordingly when you hear the result of the Stuart motion.
Norman Hall, Charlottetown, PEI
Agrees With Free Track It
Thanks to Dave Stuart for standing up to the needs of the every day horseman.
I understand that, as in all businesses, it comes down to the bottom line.
It just seems unfair to have to pay for a service that was being offered to us for free by Maurie Danko prior to Stanadardbred Canada getting involved.
The funds that Standardbred Canada spent on Track-It seem quite redundant when this was being provided previously at no cost (by Maurie Danko.com) to all horseman. It seems that Standardbred Canada has now created more expense to itself in the I.T. department for preparation and now maintaining Track-It. Was this really necessary or just Standardbred Canada bullying the small guy (Mr. Danko). Trust me when I say that ALL horsemen were very happy with his product and miss it deeply!!
It seems that Standardbred Canada has lost vision in promoting harness racing and instead is interested only in building a corporate dynasty.
Track-It is a tool that all members should have access to. People who are in remote areas or in areas that shut down racing for extended periods do not have the every day use of the SC computers at local tracks.
Everyone I talk to believed that Standardbred Canada is getting way too greedy!
Todd Ferguson , Belleville, Ont
October 30 2007,
First off thank you Mr. Stuart. It is nice to have you representing us.
This data issue has gone on for far too long, and we have completely taken this in the wrong direction. From closing down a harness fan's site who gave our sport free promotion, right down to charging an ignorant fee for my numerous horse's racing lines, that I paid for in fees to gather in the first place. Only in harness racing would we let a ridiculous situation like this occur. I recently paid a gentleman to write a program for my company with my company's data. If he comes back and asks me to give him $50 a month for it, I will tell him to go jump in the lake.
Benefits of free data to everyone:
1. Sales Data - I would frequent the sales regularly, because on mdanko.com <http://mdanko.com> I could research horse's lines quickly and easily. Paying SC for this data I will NOT do ever. I have simply stopped looking for horses when SC sales come. I don't have the time, nor patience to pay them to attend their sales. It should be the opposite.
2. Betting Data - I have switched a large portion of my betting to Thoroughbreds. One reason? Data. I paid $1,000 to have a database up quickly and easily that is 100X more powerful than Track It. Does Grand River or Woodbine want my money or does Keeneland? Apparently Keeneland does.
3. Fan Growth - I thought one of the cornerstones to SC's model was to grow the game? My niece may have wanted to do a story on Tell All for school, one of which was looking for pedigree's and racelines. Good luck. What if a kid in Sweden wants to research harness racing in North America? He could with Mdanko. He can't with Track IT, because it is behind closed doors. Would the NFL have grown if they hid their scores and charged for it? Of course not. Shame on us.
4. Stable Management - I often have to figure out how much our monthly bill will be and how much revenue we have coming in. Mdanko was good for that. Made things easy. Now I have to pay for it? Not a chance. Since when for an historical occurrence (i.e. a race) that is reported on the net in real time, that I pay for, with my horse, in a business I spend $100's of thousands in, to an organization I already pay yearly to gather data, should I be charged for it? Ridiculous.
Benefits of Paying for Data:
1. SC makes more money
The choice is clear. If we want to grow this game, people like Mr. Stuart must be listened to. I hope you all agree and we start to promote ourselves to the public, and respect horse owners, customers and horse people who are the lifeblood of our dying sport. Our data should be free to everyone who wants it. That is the bottom line. If it can't be made free to everyone, put someone in charge of it who can make it free to everyone.
Dean Towers, Toronto.
October 29 2007,
Thanks To All From The Kopas Family
We want to say a sincere “Thank you” to all of those who gathered at Western Fair Raceway on October 23rd. Once again the wonderful generosity of our fellow horsemen was in evidence.
Following the inspirational idea conceived by Jack Darling, the horse community came together to perform yet another charitable need. Everyone was on a mission and the outcome was a huge financial success for OSAS. It also proved that we can all come together with warmth and happiness and good spirit; it was a fun evening we will not forget.
The fine tribute to Jack (“old what’s his name”) and his family was truly overwhelming. It was a great honour and will be in our happiest memories always our heartfelt thanks to all.
To Jack Darling, who initiated the idea and made it work;
To Ian Fleming, who put his capable shoulder to the wheel;
To Heather MacKay Roberts who gave her expertise in planning & detail;
To Hugh Mitchell whose Western Fair food service did the fine buffet in a great setting;
To Frank Salive who helped smooth out the wrinkles with his famous eloquent tones;
To WEG who kindly provided the film shown;
To The Sportsman, who so artistically recreated a lifetime of happy memories for us in their wonderful collage;
To everyone who so generously supported OSAS and so kindly celebrated with us.
We will always remember the warmth of every smile, every memory kept and the precious moments shared.
Jack, Alice & family, Ilderton
October 29 2007,
There Are Still Greats In Our Sport
The minute children were kicked out of the backstretchs of our tracks, the dynamic changed from a wonderful caring sport to a cold hearted industry. Without a sense of family or community in harness racing the fun has gone, the joy of the horse has gone, the respect has gone, and the beauty has gone.
I shudder to think of where I'd be without the opportunity I was given to be involved with this great sport as a child. The morals I learned from growing up around terrific horsemen, where would I have got them? The knowledge to care for these wonderful animals that they so freely shared, where would I have learned that? The respect for others they taught me would be foreign without the stories and guidance I received. These gifts came from many different horsemen at various tracks in Ontario and have helped me throughout all facets of my life, on and off the track. And for that, I will be forever grateful to the sport of harness racing.
My heart breaks when I see the state of harness racing today. The track is no longer a place I want to be, and certainly no place for a child. However, there is always a silver lining. Perhaps it is time to call on the knowledge and guidance from the terrific senior horsemen of our sport. If the morals and knowledge of horsemen such as Jack Kopas were applied to the leadership of harness racing today, I believe we would all enjoy a marked improvement and have a reason to hope. I know the horses would appreciate it.
Kudos to Jack Darling for reminding us that the greats still exist in our sport by arranging the Jack Kopas roast. Perhaps future gatherings could be arranged as mentoring opportunities where the morals and knowledge of these great horsemen can be shared for the betterment of harness racing today.
Jackie Wimbush, Belleville
October 24 2007,
Praise For Both Jacks Darling & Kopas
Let me add another note of public appreciation for the outstanding leadership of Jack Darling in conceiving and realizing on one of the most outstanding events in Canadian harness racing in a long time.
The cause is undeniably important and good, the honouree is one of the giants in our sport, and the "roasters" are themselves some of our finest wits and ambassadors. As Cal and Angie Stiller have noted, there was a spirit of community and common purpose in the room last night which sadly has been lacking in most of our industry gatherings for several years. All of the aforementioned participants in the evening were critical to its success and the prevailing atmosphere of goodwill, generosity, camaraderie, and general optimism.
In Jack Darling, we saw outstanding leadership from one of the great Canadian horseman of the last 20 years-great leaders transcend the narrow boundaries of their craft and profession and last night Jack Darling was confirmed as a great leader, example setter and gentleman. We all owe him a great vote of thanks and hopefully others will be inspired to carry on in industry matters with some of the "royal jelly" both Jacks (Darling and Kopas) demonstrated last night.
Clay Horner, Toronto
Kudos To Jack Darling
There is reason for hope and optimism in Standardbred Racing.
There is a community that is generous, warm and caring. Good things can occur if leadership is taken.
Why do we say these things? Evidence for them was displayed last night at the Jack Kopas Roast.
A large group from across the industry gathered at Western Fair to show their love and respect for Jack and Alice Kopas. Everybody was there and everybody had fun. There was no animosity in that room. There was no sinister gossiping. Everyone was there for one reason. To do good - and the object of that was the great athlete that we have the honour to associate with - the horse. We all gave something towards the dignified retirement of horses through the Ontario Standardbred Adoption Society.
And who took the leadership to get this done? Jack Darling.
We all owe him a debt of gratitude for generating the enthusiasm and generosity. What a great night, Jack.
We went to bed last night feeling really good about the sport we're involved with (and looking forward to tasting that $100 Alice Kopas pie!!).
Angie and Cal Stiller, Arva, Ontario
October 22 2007,
Objection To Raccoon Decision In Valley Victory Elim
On Saturday, October 20, 2007, the two elimination heats for the Valley Victory Stakes took place at Woodbine Racetrack. At the quarter mile mark of the second heat, a raccoon came onto the track directly into the path of Di Manngio who was first on the rail and Lancer Springs who was third, but racing second on the rail directly behind Di Manngio.
Havoc erupted with both lead horses being forced off stride by the raccoon. The judges posted an inquiry. They determined the two horses were prevented from having a fair chance to contest the race due to the outside interference.
All monies wagered on the two horses were refunded. Immediately after the race, the owners of Di Manngio and Lancer Springs urged the judges that given the finding that they were deprived of a fair chance to contest the race, it ought to have been declared a "no contest."
There is precedent from the Michigan Sires Stakes final last month where geese wandering onto the track impeded two of the horses racing in the stakes final. The Michigan race was declared a no contest and was rescheduled for a later date.
In May, 2006, Woodbine also declared a race a "no contest" when a pair of geese and their goslings walked across the track near the top of the stretch and disrupted a race. Thus far the judges have refused to do so.
The owners of Di Manngio and Lancer Springs have alternatively asked that the field for the Valley Victory final be expanded to 12 horses and that they be included in the field. The owners have urged that the $666,000 Valley Victory final cannot be considered a bona fide contest as required by the Rules of Standardbred Racing.
Jim Gallagher (part owner of Lancer Springs), Columbus, Ohio
October 19 2007,
Does Anyone Care That We Can’t Bet?
Why can't someone (person or organization) solve the problem of the HPI telephone betting accounts being disabled in OHHA District 2? For those who don't know, these accounts are disabled because there is no working agreement between OHHA and the racetracks in District 2. Apparently there are agreements between the ORC, the Canadian Pari Mutuel Agency, WEG, etc, that stipulates such agreements must be in place in order for HPI to have telephone accounts.
The crazy part of this dilemma is that THERE ARE NO RACETRACKS IN DISTRICT 2. Kingston Park closed years ago, the old Belleville track closed to allow a new track to be built in Belleville and the proposed builders of the new track (Baymount) say they are going to start construction 'soon'.
In the meantime, hundreds of account holders have not been able to enjoy the thrill of wagering from home while watching races on TV. Just about every organization and person in authority that has anything to do with harness racing have said how concerned they are about the serious decline in pari-mutuel wagering and yet these same people and organizations cannot solve a small problem like this. Does anybody care? Can't someone step up to the plate and hit a homerun for harness racing?
Howard Pearce, Elginburg,Ont.
October 18 2007,
The Flip-Side to Anabolic Steroids
The issue of anabolic steroids is heating up in horse racing as the Racing Medication and Testing Consortium travels from state to state soliciting their Model Rule to Racing Commissions. Most would agree that anabolic steroids should be regulated but to what degree, and can this be determined with the amount of information that is currently available?
The majority of anabolic steroids are listed as Class 4 drugs, which means that they are therapeutic medications with little affect on performance. In fact, four research studies have been done on whether anabolic steroids are actually performance enhancing in the horse and all four have found that they are not. Many of us have been around horses, who have been on anabolic steroids at some point in time, and we do notice a slightly more aggressive animal. Although behavior can be altered, the physiology of a horse does not change so dramatically from anabolic steroids that it makes them have an advantage over any other horse. One thing that most trainers and veterinarians agree on is that anabolic steroids help a horse feel better. Anabolic steroids increases their appetite, makes them more willing to participate in training and helps horses regain their competitive nature.
Comparing horse racing to any human sport that is dealing with the anabolic steroid issues is impractical. Horses’ and humans’ physiology are dramatically different. Horses are known as ‘fight or flight’ animals, and more instinctively known to take flight in stressful situations. Race horses use flight effects at the start of races caused by the starting bell or being behind the starting car. When a horse takes flight they release the hormone commonly known as adrenaline. Adrenaline increases the horse’s heartbeat and the spleen, which is extremely large in a racehorse and filled with red blood cells, shoots out massive amounts of red blood cells known as a ‘spleen dump.’ The race horse’s heartbeat increases from 30 to as high as 250 beats per minute, and pumps as much as 132 gallons of blood throughout the body each minute during the flight effect. The extreme amounts of red blood cells, released from the spleen, then transports oxygen throughout the body. Thirty-five percent of both horse’s and human’s blood volume is made up of red blood cells when resting. During exercise though, humans maintain 35 percent red blood cells, while a horse’s numbers increase to 65 percent. A horse’s heart is able to handle the increase of red blood cells, which thickens the blood, but a human would suffer from a heart attack or stroke from this increase. Just knowing this small blurb of information should make anyone realize how completely different horses and humans are from one another.
Looking at the Model Rule that is being campaigned by the RMTC and Dr. Scot Waterman many holes can be found. Most laboratories in the United States do not feel comfortable testing for anabolic steroids, especially through urine. A urine sample can give many different concentrations depending upon the horse’s chemistry and how well hydrated the horse is. Dr. Steven Barker from Louisiana State University stated that plasma was the only effective way to test for anabolic steroids, and even then true thresholds are not known. Why would a rule that regulates a substance, not completely banning the substance, even be implemented if thresholds could not be given? That seems very unjust.
The Model Rule states, “The presence of more than one of the four approved anabolic steroids at any concentration is not permitted.” This rule was accepted by the Indiana Horse Racing Commission. Automatically this rule is setting up almost every horse that races under these regulations as guilty because most horses naturally carry two out of the four allowed steroids in their system.
Everyone agrees that racing needs to be on an even playing field, conducted with the utmost integrity. This integrity needs to start from the top down, meaning that the rules that are implemented need to carry the same morality that they require from the horsemen. To make this a fair ordeal for horsemen, more research into the subject of testing, withdrawals times, and alternative treatments would be beneficial. Once this research is conducted, unification needs to take place. Unification amongst jurisdictions and laboratories is crucial. Otherwise this entire situation will create only more animosity amongst officials and horsemen, when both parties want integrity in racing. “A brief review of the facts leads to the conclusion that the ‘Model Rules,’ particularly as they relate to drug regulation, are not based on defensible science and will be subject to extensive challenge in hearings and courts,” stated Dr. Steven Barker of Louisiana State University. With a little bit more research, education and planning this could be a successful endeavor.
Administrative Assistant to the Indiana Standardbred Association Board of Directors
September 22 2007,
Letter To The ORC ~ Re: Ontario Breds
The ORC have before them recommendations for the horse improvement program made by a distinguished advisory group. I applaud their efforts and I believe the increase in purse money and Breeders rewards will have a certain impact on the industry. However, I am not so sure about one recommendation concerning the term "registered Ontario-breds".
I understand the need to promote quality Standardbred breeding in Ontario but I feel penalized for breeding a non-resident mare to an Ontario-based stallion. The breeders reward program has been an incentive for me to breed to Ontario stallions in the past. If breeders like myself stop breeding to Ontario-based stallions we lose interest in the "Made in Ontario" product and the proposed plan may suffer a set-back.
I have kept my broodmares in the Maritimes because it is not only more cost efficient but I can actually see them from time to time as I live in these parts. If I want to keep breeding to Ontario-based stallions I will no longer qualify for breeders rewards as of 2011 (unless my mares become resident mares). This is a deterrent to breed to Ontario sires. I don't know how many breedings to Ontario-based stallions are actually out of province. I suspect it is a significant number. What about the stallion owners? Will they ever have a closed book? Stallion owners may think twice about standing in Ontario if they cannot have a large book.
I know I can still breed to Ontario-based stallions and not receive any breeders rewards should my foals ever make it to the races. However, should these proposed recommendations be accepted, I will certainly be looking in other jurisdictions that do not penalize the breeder who wishes to keep his/her mare elsewhere. Pennsylvania, for example, has a breeders reward for foals of non-resident mares and a premium breeders reward for foals of resident mares.
I also want to comment on the timing of the proposed recommendations. I have bred several mares to Ontario-based stallions in 2007. The proposal states that the breeders rewards should be only given to registered Ontario-breds as of 2011. This would mean my foals of 2008, should they earn money in the OSS as three-year-olds in 2011, would not allow me to qualify for the breeders rewards. This is truly unfair to propose changing the rules after the fact. Had I known these proposals before the 2007 breeding season I would have possibly looked elsewhere for stallions.
In closing, let me just list off a few Ontario-sired horses that were born outside Ontario. Had the breeders rewards proposals been in place, the broodmare owners may have chosen to match their mares with other stallions and we may not have seen the likes of Somebeachsomewhere p, 2,1:49.3 ($812,000), Michelles Power p, 3, 150.1, ($947,000), Astronomical, p, 1:50 ($700,000), Laddie 3, 1:55, ($860,000), Carolyn AS 3. 1:55.2, ($484,000), Bella Dolce 2, 1:55, ($227,000).
Dan Belliveau, Halifax, NS
O’Brien Awards Voting Process
This letter is not a comment on who should or should not be Canada’s trainer of the year, but rather a reference to the process. The people who vote on the O’Brien Awards are asked to review the candidates with the following guidance “The voters' mandate is to vote for the horse or person in each division they felt made the greatest contribution to Canadian harness racing over the past season.”
When the voters see the statistical representation of Blair’s Canadian starts, they are not going to jump off the page. While many who participate directly in the industry may feel the ability to produce world champions or win major U.S. based stake races should get stronger weighing in the consideration of who should win trainer of the year award, I would ask that all consider the voters, whose perspective may be not to weigh as heavily those accomplishments as having a direct impact on Canadian racing.
Again, this not a comment on who should win Trainer of the Year, but rather a comment that I think its easy to lose sight of what the voters are actually asked to vote on, and then if the results do not align with those expectations, to blame award process as incorrect. If an individual feels the process does not serve the industry well, then my suggestion would be to lobby Stanardbred Canada for a language change in the voting guidance.
Steve Calhoun, Chatham, Ontario
September 21 2007,
Year End Honours
I hope that the year end voters take notice and honour Blair Burgess for trainer of the year, I can't imagine what else he has to do to prove how much he deserves this. The win with Tell All in the Little Brown Jug was exceptional and also to win two Hambletonians and develop Glidemaster into the great horse he was says it all. Congratulations Blair. Hats off to Jody as well for another great drive.
In regard to driving awards I feel that Paul MacDonell should be awarded as there is no one more consistent year in and year out. He has won numerous big races this year as well as in the past and I don't think he should be overlooked. People will say I am partial to Paul and I am but his accomplishments speak for themselves.
Paula Wellwood, Cambridge, ON
Will Jug Victory Earn Burgess Year End Honours?
Attention: Year End Voters
Re: Blair Burgess
His training talents and record of accomplishments are unsurpassed. Yesterday’s victory in the Little Brown Jug was another superb training job. (and a HMT driving clinic by Jody)
Brian Webster, St. George, Ontario
Thank You For NYSS Coverage
I’m writing concerning the great, and timely coverage of the Night of Champions. Even though I could not attend that evening at Yonkers, I enjoyed the blow by blow coverage on "The Harness Edge" web site along with being able to watch it on my local OTB channel. I had assumed that Kelly Young was writing the stories, in between running the show. But Kelly corrected me and thus I write to you.
First of all, I enjoy your web site. You pull no punches. The information you give to those of us in this sport/industry is timely, honest and informative. I wish other sites would do the same.
As for your coverage of New York's Night of Champions, I thank you for taking the time to come south of the border. You did a wonderful job. You bought the night to thousands of others who could not be at Yonkers that night and in turn did a great service for the Sire Stakes program in New York. We've been around for almost 50 years, you know ... thank you, thank you, thank you.
Susan Zweig, Middlebrook Farms