08/11/2014 11:02AM

Bergman: Yonkers Raceway could be the new NFL pregame show

Derick Giwner
Yonkers Raceway will host five Sunday morning cards starting November 9.

Yonkers Raceway already has the highest purse structure in North America. What the half-mile track has lacked is the ability to get bettors to play along. Despite its lofty perch for horsemen, Yonkers has been unable to get on track, with money through the windows virtually stagnant.

This is not a news flash for the Standardbred Owners Association of New York. Over the last year they have made a concerted effort to bring about change, not necessarily by playing to the same audience, but by looking overseas.

Earlier this year they announced an agreement with PMU (the wagering arm in France) to simulcast races during the fall. The initial conversation saw Yonkers ask and receive permission to race on Tuesday afternoons, but the French team expressed a desire to give Yonkers a window if they agreed to race on Sunday afternoons instead.

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The arrangement was forged and for five Sundays during the heart of the NFL season, the track will open at 11:00 a.m. for a live racing program that will commence with five consecutive trotting races of varied field sizes and distances.

“I don’t think there’s that big a difference racing Tuesdays or Sundays,” said Alex Dadoyan, Executive Director of the SOA of New York.

Dadoyan has worked with the PMU for the last six or seven years—mostly for the Meadowlands—in reaching agreements to simulcast Hambletonian Day cards to France.

“This is an experiment,” said Dadoyan. “They (PMU) only simulcast two racing cards at a time.” Yonkers will fill the Twilight spot with one other track on each of the given Sundays.

What’s key for Yonkers is to offer a product that the French will wager on. Dadoyan says that each race will have to have a minimum of eight horses. SOA of NY President Joe Faraldo said on Hambletonian Day that the French were also interested in one of the five races to have 14 horses.

“It’s something we’re going to have to work on,” said Faraldo, “We’d have to find a way to get the horsemen paid.” Ultimately Faraldo doesn’t wish to see nine of 14 horses go home without a check, so he’s working to see that all horses that participate get something in return.

What’s intriguing about this experiment is that Yonkers’ horseman and track owners are pretty much willing to put on a race card solely for the benefit of those wagering overseas. The 11:00 a.m. start time will limit both on- and off-track play, though those playing online will have no problem.

What that means is that pool size, at least on this side of the Atlantic, is likely to be very light.

“We’re looking into ways to give out vouchers to people on Saturday night to wager on the Sunday program,” said Faraldo, acknowledging the need to boost handle on the Sunday matinee programs.

What’s obvious about the effort of the horsemen at Yonkers and track management is the vision of the future and the willingness to break up the existing program to make changes, even if they are not intended for the local public.

It comes as no surprise that Yonkers wishes to usher in this new era by attempting to gain interest in its local product with a $250,000 Invitational Trot tentatively slated for October 25, the night of the Yonkers Trot and Messenger Stakes. Already the horsemen have reached out to the connections of Sebastian K to see if the International star could help reignite International Trot fever for 2015 at Yonkers.

“It was really amazing how many people came over to Tim Rooney (Sr.) in France and thanked him for hosting the International for all those years,” said Dadoyan of the trip the senior Rooney and his son took along with the horsemen in January to iron out some of the details of the French simulcast arrangement.

At this point, those betting on the Yonkers races in France and other European nations that wager into the PMU pools, will have their money in a separate pool from that at Yonkers and in North America. Obviously the long range hope for Faraldo and his horsemen would be to have the pools commingled with a hope of growing the Yonkers on-track and North American simulcast audience.

“Hopefully if this works out well they will come back next year and want more races per card and maybe run for more weeks in a row,” said Dadoyan. “It’s something that is going to take time.”

The Sunday afternoon schedule will commence on November 9.

While North Americans cannot wager into the PMU pools directly, those with connections to some European countries may have their friends help them place a wager or two.

“They have the second largest pari-mutuel pool in the world behind Japan,” said Dadoyan of the type of money that gets churned on a daily basis.

With the experiment in sight, Faraldo has indicated that the sides are coordinating bilingual talent to put on a quality presentation overseas.

Those witnessing the product locally will also notice something wildly different but incredibly old school.

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“They are very particular about races going off exactly on time,” said Dadoyan. So don’t expect any lag time between the announced post and actual time of departure.

This is a critical experiment for Yonkers and for its horsemen. Dadoyan and Faraldo were also very grateful that Yonkers management has been on board and pro-active in pursuit of this deal and its smooth execution.

“I think the horsemen know what’s at stake,” said Dadoyan. That suggests that field size will probably be greater than eight in most cases and that odd distances should help forge more movement in each event.

“I think you’ll see horses on the outside,” said Dadoyan of what he expects to be a lively racing product.

Though a majority of the racing program on these Sunday’s will take place after 1:00 p.m., it should be noted that the first five races are likely to be over before opening kickoff, with post time separated by 30 minutes between each of the five events.

While it will be hard to measure success on this side of the ocean, the very fact that Yonkers’ racing product will be up against just one other signal is most definitely a reason to be optimistic considering how far off the radar it is for many wagering in North America.

Bon chance.