03/25/2013 10:53AM

Jay Bergman: Faraldo should keep focus in New York

Derick Giwner
Joe Faraldo, president of the Standardbred Owners Association of New York, can lead a betting renaissance at Yonkers by making simple changes.

There’s been a public argument that Meadowlands chief Jeff Gural has been running. His suggestion that the industry needs the Meadowlands to succeed appears single-minded. He and other investors are building a new Meadowlands, and there is, without question, hope for great success.

At the same time, I believe that for the industry to survive, it also needs a dynamic Yonkers Raceway. While Gural can argue that Yonkers is doing well enough with its $50 million guaranteed purse account, the idea that horsemen at Yonkers have nothing to lose is simply not true.

As our brothers to the north in Ontario are realizing, no racing purses supported by alternative gambling are guaranteed for life.

[DRF HARNESS: Sign Up for the FREE DRF Harness Newsletter Today!]

There’s reason to take exception with Joe Faraldo’s personal stance against the Meadowlands and its horsemen this past week. If Faraldo, president of the Standardbred Owners Association of New York, had a problem personally with any of the horsemen in New Jersey, he certainly could have aired it privately.

If Faraldo has a problem that more money is being wagered at the Meadowlands than in the past year, we can only wonder why he is paying so much attention to the affairs in New Jersey and not minding his own store.

Perhaps that’s why the aggressive tone with which Faraldo was speaking seemed more than out of place. It seemed more like outer space.

There’s no question that the strong purse structure at Yonkers has been extremely beneficial to the horsemen who compete there. Mind you, these aren’t the same horsemen who struggled when the track’s top purse was $15,000. Instead, new blood has taken the helm, and with it, new drivers have emerged.

It’s a great thing for Yonkers Raceway that leading drivers George Brennan and Brian Sears are now regulars on its circuit. It’s also important that North America’s leading stable of Ron Burke dominates the scene. But along with that great success story are clear issues with the racing product.

A close look at the Yonkers post-position standings becomes difficult to swallow from a handicapping perspective. That’s because just 5 percent of the horses who start from posts 7 or 8 win races there. In other words, there’s a 1-in-20 chance that a post-7 or post-8 horse will win any specific race over the half-mile track.

Burke’s horses are winning more than 30 percent of their starts, while leading trainers Rene Allard (24 percent) and Gilbert Garcia-Herrera (26 percent) are not that  far behind.  Brian Sears is winning at a 28 percent clip driving horses at Yonkers.

Why should these numbers be of any significance to someone like Faraldo? The answer is that these categories are among the first horseplayers look at before making wagers. With the combination of the low percentage of outside posts winning, reliable trainers and very reliable drivers, odds-on favorites score at a 41 percent clip these days.

So, here is Faraldo calling out the Meadowlands and its management for involving themselves with betting cartels, a term I used loosely and now has become lore. To be honest, no matter what the Meadowlands is selling its signal for and who is taking advantage of these healthy rebates, the message appears quite clear: When significant money is in the pool, it opens the doors for more money.

At Yonkers, where Faraldo’s horsemen race, even if there was interest in signing with a group of gamblers to wager a significant amount of money on a nightly basis, the likelihood that one would arise seems rather slim. That’s because the numbers just don’t add up for heavy hitters trying to profit at Yonkers.

The way the game is structured at Yonkers, anyone putting in a large wager would more than likely be betting against himself and knocking down already low-priced favorites further.

While Faraldo attempts to tell the Meadowlands what to do as far as wagering is concerned, he has sat by and watched Yonkers hand out the sport’s best purses while appearing to have less interest in what the betting public wants. They are contesting races at Yonkers, and there is competition. However, as we’ve said in the past, when horsemen are virtually guaranteed a check whether they attempt to win or not, it’s quite hard to demand that everyone actually tries to win a race.

Trainer Darran Cassar, who raced three horses in the Levy series opening leg Saturday, echoed those sentiments when he said: “A first-place check would be nice, but any check would be good too.” Obviously, racing for a $50,000 purse can change your outlook considerably.

In a nutshell, Faraldo and his horsemen can reshape the game at Yonkers and provide the needed gambling success that the track and the sport deserve. They can do so only by shifting away from the status quo. That’s what the Meadowlands did this past year, and I have to believe that Faraldo must have had jealously flowing through his veins before he penned his attack.

If Faraldo truly wants to lead a betting renaissance at Yonkers, there are things that can be done.

First and foremost, I would reward any horses who win from post 7 or 8 with inside post positions in each of their next three races. Too many horses who draw outside at Yonkers simply don’t give it the old college try.

Second, I think Yonkers needs to adopt a policy of not allowing horses at their highest levels to drop in class. To me, rewarding very successful stables with easy drops simply helps to double the number of odds-on entries.

My answer would be something akin to what goes on in the Southern Hemisphere. Once a horse achieves “non-winners of $25,000 in last six starts” status, it must remain at that level for the next 12 months, period. All horsemen would be free to ship out and race elsewhere, but there should be no local reward that guarantees success simply by dropping in class.

To bring about fairness at the non-winners-of-$25,000 category, the racing secretary could handicap the races to make them more competitive and fair, not just for the horsemen, but for gamblers too.

Third, why not go back to nine-horse fields, even on a limited basis? Removing one guaranteed check from the equation is a motivating factor for all parties, but mostly, an extra horse will more than likely ensure that there will be no canceled superfectas (New York law requires seven betting interests for a superfecta to be offered). It will also ensure that pick fours become more challenging. It’s hard to build something without putting in a new foundation.

And finally, give a long, hard look at the number of racing dates you apply for in 2014. Like Gural, Yonkers President Tim Rooney wanted fewer racing dates when he signed his initial contract with the horsemen after slot legislation passed, but Faraldo and his horsemen would have none of it.

If Faraldo and his horsemen ever wish to get serious about making Yonkers the half-mile wagering capital of the world, they need to focus on what they can do and not obsess over their neighbor across the Hudson.