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Bergman: Yonkers Raceway could be the new NFL pregame show
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.
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.
“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.
all sounds good but realistically standardbred racing on a half mile track is obsolete.horses are just too fast . back in the day when a sub 30 quarter and a sub 2 minute mile was outstanding it was ok but now ? only way to increase handle at yonkers is to re-build the track at least to a 5/8 track. rooney has the money and the property why not?
I too used to wager heavily on harness racing. Mostly 80% the other 20% thoroughbreds. Since 2008 I have switched to strictly thoroughbreds and only major tracks, Saratoga, Belmont, Santa Anita, Del Mar etc. Harness racing is hardly racing at all. No driver wants to engage another or even pull because they are satisfied with in the money checks and taking weekly turns leaving and opening holes. It could not be more boring or rigged. And trust me I have been behind a sulky, owned, trained, bet, you name it. The sport (using the term in sarcasm) is prehistoric. The drugs, thievery, the rehearsal in the mornings in the barns or at the pinochle tables has abolished any thought of me wagering on this nonsense. Yonkers is the classic merry go round unexciting, bland product out there. I have been involved with it since the early 70's and even in the late 90's early 2000's it was WAY more exciting and lucrative then today. It is dead to me. Remember Life Signs jug effort ?? That was great and since that period in time it has painfully killed itself. As early as 15 years ago and prior the average fan of the sport knew the top drivers, Filion, Stanley Dancer, Jackie Mo, Campbell, et al and now you would be hard pressed for the average fan to identify top drivers. In my opinion, harness racing will cease to exist in another 10 years. Good riddance, the game is dead. Thanks cheaters
The problem with Yonkers Raceway is the judges. The drivers go about business like they are all buddy buddy. 1/4 in 27 half in 57 is very typical at Yonkers. Drivers make the top and back it off immediately. Anyone that leaves, usually finds a hole. They do not race horses. There are rules in place to stop that from happening. "Causing confusion behind", "Maintaining proper pace" are 2 off the top of my head, that could be enforced to stop every single Yonkers race to look like a training trip for most. Because drivers "Let each other go", because they do not plug holes, horses do not mix it up. Then the drivers are allowed to back almost every half off. Watch a few races at Northfield and you will see what racing should look like. You leave, you are getting stung at least a little, if not a ton. If you leave and there is a hole, the driver will plug it. The result is lots of action, lots of excitement. Sure there are mismatched races. It can not be helped, but race to race, the rules of the road are followed. When you are on the track, you compete. Your not all buddy buddy. The handle is down at Yonkers, because the racing stinks. The racing stinks because the judges do not do their job. I used to bet Yonkers for a living. I got sick of seeing some piece of garbage at even money get a free pass to the lead, jam the field and hang on. I switched to Northfield. Watch both tracks for a single evening and compare. I hope this gets read.
Go Alex. It's good to see that somebody is trying to make Yonkers come alive for racing.
I have been going to Yonkers since the early 70's and now watch the races on simulcast. Here is the problem in a nutshell. The races stink. Not the horses or the classes, but the races themselves. Every race is the same scenario. First quarter goes 28 and the half is 57 or 58, no one pulls and they are still single file when they hit the backstretch. The passing lane is the ruination of racing on a half mile track. Years ago if you were third on the rail going to the three quarters you were basically dead. Not any longer. And with the advent of the large purses, whats so bad about finishing third if you do wind up getting locked in? As long as the races remain single file, little movement contests, why bother betting?
Anything new is good...bring it on.
Too bad Yonkers let's Trainers dope their horses. Place is full of thieves--why anyone would bet Yonkers is beyond me. Horsemen know this too.
Simulcast to Hong Kong. Triple pool will be half a million every race.
This is soooo long overdue....will support 100%