03/14/2013 12:35PM

Harness Racing: Levy Series, Meadowlands Horse Shortage

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This week Yonkers Raceway announced the nominated pacers for the Bluechip Matchmaker and George Morton Levy Memorial series’. These six-week long events which culminate in two rich finals on Saturday, April 27 present one of the best earning opportunities for older horses that the game has available.

In the Levy each field of horses get to race for $50,000 for five consecutive weeks. Then the top eight money-earners return for a jackpot of around $450,000 in the final. The Matchmaker offers a $40,000 weekly prize pool for each race and a final that usually ends up in the upper $200,000 range.

All-time money-winning pacer Foiled Again has made a healthy living in the Levy series over the years. The now 9-year-old Ron Burke trainee has banked $963,150 over the last four years racing in the Levy. That represents just over 20 percent of his $4,625,984 career earnings. The son of Dragon Again won the series in 2009 and 2010.

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Burke, who has six in the Levy and nine in the Matchmaker, also sends out perennial Levy big money earner Atochia. Also a son of Dragon Again, he has made $536,200 since 2009 in the series. The 2012 winner has earned just above 30% of his career $1,722,092 in the series.

Real Nice, who won the series in 2011 but did not nominate this year, has taken home $579,600 in his four-year Levy career. That sum is about 46% of his $1,245,289 career tally.

But back to the Burke stable.

While it is fun to watch the top older pacers, perhaps there needs to be a limit on the number of horses one stable can nominate to the series. Yonkers Raceway does a great job limiting the number of finalists from one barn to two. Maybe the maximum number of nominations from one barn needs to be five.

This is nothing against Burke, who does an awesome job of juggling the biggest stable on the planet. But in the interest of providing the best possible betting product and most competitive races, the prospects of having a Burke entry in half of the preliminary legs of the each series just doesn’t cut it.

Here’s hoping for an exciting six weeks of racing at Yonkers. The Matchmaker kicks off on Friday, March 22 and the Levy on Saturday, March 23.

While Yonkers will likely be welcoming top drivers Tim Tetrick and Yannick Gingras each weekend for the Matchmaker and Levy series, the Meadowlands is desperately seeking horses to ensure full fields for as many races as possible.

Operator Jeff Gural sent out a “from the heart” plea to the horsemen on Thursday. I have to admit that I’m not sure what these messages accomplish. Very few horsemen are going to alter what is in the best interest of their owners and horses to help the Meadowlands. In a perfect world there would be enough horses to go around for every track to race as much as they want. That is not the case.

Until the time comes when Meadowlands gets alternative gaming options and can lure horses away from the surrounding states, perhaps they need to capitalize on the summer and “dead periods” on the racing calendar.

I would propose a November to mid-March and last week of June until mid-August schedule (racing Thursday to Saturday) for the East Rutherford oval. That would ensure maximum horse population and the best chance of consistently full fields for the number one generator of harness racing handle in North America.

For the record, here is some of what Gural said:

As you know, the first twenty-nine days of the 2013 meet at the Meadowlands have been an overwhelming success.  The public has adapted to the classification system, along with the competitive style of racing full fields, etc. as our handle is up approximately 33%.  Last year we only had two days excluding the Hambletonian and Meadowlands Pace where the handle exceeded $3 Million dollars.  This year we already exceeded $3 Million dollars on thirteen occasions. 

That is the good news.

The bad news is that because all of our income is derived from wagering and horse racing we need to continue to generate handles of over $3 Million dollars every Friday and Saturday.  In order to do that we require full fields and since we are only racing two days beginning next week essentially we need 250 horses each weekend to fill both cards. Last weekend we had twenty-five fewer horses racing over the weekend and as a result our handle declined by $508,000. 

To be blunt, I need the industry to step up and support the Meadowlands which may not be the best business decision for everyone in the short term but, in my opinion, the industry needs a healthy Meadowlands and we deserve the support of the industry. 

The other option would be for us to drastically reduce the stakes program which I think would help increase our overnight purses but would have a very negative impact on the industry because our stakes program is vital to support the breeding industry.  It also serves to attract new customers by showcasing our best horses and creating the kind of excitement we see for our major races.  This will be especially true when we move into the new building. Currently we use 25% of our purse money to fund the stakes program approximately $4,200,000 while our competitors are typically using 10-12%. 

To be honest, I am not sure there are enough horses for all of the race days that are scheduled at Chester, Pocono, Yonkers, Dover and the Meadowlands.  It would seem at some point it should be addressed as the number of mares bred and yearlings born each year continues to decline significantly.  Common sense would tell you that this has to have an impact and that race days have to start to come down.  The bottom line is we cannot survive without full fields as we get killed when we have six or seven horse races no matter what the quality is.  We struggled to fill the card with short fields the last two weekends and Pocono is not open yet. 

I would rather see the industry support us on a voluntary basis as I think it is in everyone’s best interest that we continue to provide the type of product we have been providing for the last two and a half months.  Hopefully I can count on your support.

Meadowlands Saturday Spot Plays

I’ll be doing Saturday Meadowlands analysis again starting next week but here are some spot plays which caught my eye for this week:

Race 1 – (1) WARRAWEE NEEDY

I know he got caught after setting fast fractions last week, but with a couple of starts under his belt, that won’t happen this time around. I’d accept 4-5 or better on him.

Race 2 – (5) MODERN FAMILY

He was raced a bit more conservatively last week because he simply didn’t need to win the race to make the final. I expect him to be on the lead or sitting right on Quick Deal’s back this week. My target price is 7-5 or higher.

Race 5 – (2) OLDE TIME HOCKEY

Had post 10 in his pari-mutuel debut and the race was over for him once he didn’t leave the gate. The trip was awful behind lackluster cover and he still finished with good pace.

Race 11 – (5) STATESMAN N

New Zealand import kicked home in 25 4/5 in his first U.S. qualifier. He’ll have to drop about four seconds to compete, but he looked like one that could be decent. If the price is at least 5-2 I would take a shot.

 

Jay More than 1 year ago
Imagine if NYRA had its act together and improved Yonkers? Meadowlands would be dead. Only thing keeping Meadowlands going is joint venture with TVG. The people at the track and locals at home in the Garden State are not betting $3 million. Track is a dump, food is unedible, drinks are a joke, infrastructure is old and staff is older. Only name jockeys drive elsewhere regularly as well, often on the same day. Purses are low. What is the difference of short fields on long tracks and full fields on short tracks? very little. Yonkers is infinitely more interesting from every angle these days, a real surprise, but ownership there is lost. What a mess.
Doug Kendrick More than 1 year ago
Hey guys it's the free market at work. Many years ago I once played golf with a Hall of Fame driver who at the time told me when Yonkers gets slots he was leaving the Meadowlands for Yonkers. He did exactly that. The money thrown around by tracks with slots makes it hard for owners, driver and trainers to go elsewhere. Also makes it hard for a place like the Meadowlands to compete. The Meadowlands will continue to struggle until they get slots. And that won't happen.
Blaine MacMillan More than 1 year ago
What about the horse player in this equation. The Meadowlands 1 mile oval is the only track where the bettor gets a fair shake for his dollar literally and figuratively. 1/2 mile ovals eliminate the outside horses and the 5/8 tracks have takeouts that undermine payoff potential. We need a leveling of the playing field. Slots for everybody or nobody and let the best track win.
Jay Bergman More than 1 year ago
"I would rather see the industry support us on a voluntary basis" This is the most troubling line in Gural's public "appeal" The suggestion that he has an alternative to voluntary strikes a very challenging chord to his desire and that of the horsemen. Perhaps Gural should volunteer to change his racing schedule as you suggest. Perhaps he should finally recognize that January and February are and will always be the best two months for wagering on harness racing. This need not be a battle between people with plenty of money and those trying to earn a living.
Mike Bilinskas More than 1 year ago
can't limit the amount of horses one barn has in a series, whats next limit the amount of horses a week one barn can enter at a track...