Passionate New York harness racing blogger Allan Schott insists that when he is blogging he's standing up for the 'seldom heard voices' within the North American industry. 'I get to voice my opinion for the 'little guy',' Schott told Harnesslink. With racinos, the horsemen and tracks have forgotten about the 'little guy' and the big gamblers. They don't need any handle to race for good money.'
The 51-year-old former computer programming/systems analyst and consultant, who is now disabled, has never been afraid to voice his opinion – especially on controversial issues.
When asked who he respected most in harness racing, he replied instantly – “Jeff Gural”.
“Forget about the Meadowlands for a moment. Here is a man, who along with Jason Settlemoir and Nick Salvi, is trying to save the game.
“Yes, they have racinos in New York, but at least they are trying to make harness racing an entertainment/gaming option at their tracks as valid as the slot machines. They are also trying to make some changes which other tracks, even without slots, can replicate.
He also liked to pronounce small-time unsung heroes like Allentown (New Jersey) trainer Anouk Busch.
“Here is a small trainer who does very well with the stock she gets, but since she doesn’t have the name because she hasn’t had that ‘big’ horse, she doesn’t get many people knocking on her door to train.
“She spends all her free time running a horse rescue named Horse Rescue United. While she will rescue any horse, she deals primarily in standardbreds and she will even go to the graded sales to buy them and she handles owner surrenders as well.
“Another person I admire is Riina Rekila who is racing up in Canada. True, she races primarily her family’s own racing stock but to come over from Finland and get the type of UDR and UTR she has shows she is the complete horse person,” Schott said.
But his biggest gripe was that harness racing administrators had forgotten about the gambler, especially at the racinos.
“So little money is wagered at these tracks, but everyone is getting rich and forgetting about the gambler. One day the slots will disappear and there will be no fan base remaining. One example is the lack of a fair start rule as they have in Canada.
“You have people still wagering and a horse refuses to come to the gate. The field is released and the other horse is a football field or more behind and you don’t refund the money and what you have a horse that is closer to the back paddock than the starting line when the race begins.
“If that gambler is a newbie, he is going to say what the heck and never return.
Integrity is a big issue and a lot of that falls on the racing commissions. Every racing commission needs to rework their rule book and update fines and suspensions and they need to index fines. First you have a $100 fine at a racino track where they are racing at least for $12,000 each race; what kind of deterrent is a $100 fine?
“They also need to index fines. For example, you have a provisional driver you fine a $100 and that is a deterrent. You take a driver like George Brennan (just using a name) that earns millions in purses and they get the same fine. What is that? The cost of doing business.
“On Facebook, there is a driver who won a stakes race who laughed about getting a $100 fine and they laughed about it being the cost of doing business. Fines and suspensions need to be indexed to the previous year’s earnings so fines are always about deterrent, and never a cost of doing business.
Racing in North America needs to change. Many people (primarily those at racinos) feel things are perfect yet handle goes down and we get fewer fans each year as they die off or go broke by killer takeout rates.
“We are very North American-centric here. We should replicate what works abroad, different distances, racing under saddle, and de-emphasize two year old racing. Stop this 3-years-old and out attitude'. Here is where Jeff Gural is so correct.
“You go to Europe and Australasia and you have veterans racing year in and year out and people watch them. Here, by the time you learn a horse’s name, they end up in the breeding shed. Why we can’t breed and race the same year I don’t understand.
“We race too much here in North America. You have on some summer days, 21 tracks racing the same day. As a result handles are too small that their pools are not worth betting into.
“I don’t say tracks need to be closed, but what should be done is sensible scheduling so you don’t have too many tracks racing at any given time.
“However,we need a national-approach or at least a regional-approach, not a situation where horsemen in each state worry about themselves so you have 18 states in the USA doing what they want without any coordination,” Schott said.
We then asked Schott a few one-on-one questions.
Birthplace? New York City.
High School? River Dell regional.
College: Rutgers College.
Have you owned a horse? Yes – one named Lucky Oil (five wins) in the 1980s.
Best Horse seen?is still the best; this was before horses were managed and only race at certain tracks. After that, I would have to say Big Towner; he was a monster on the half mile Oval.
Biggest influence on your career? As a blogger, I would have to say my father. We would go weekly to Yonkers Raceway starting at the age of 14 where I would see the best horses racing week-in, week-out and some of the best drivers like Del Insko, Lucien Fontaine, Herve and Henri Filion. Also, Rutgers University; being close enough to Freehold Raceway, there were days I would go there instead of class; especially when I had classes where all the professor did was read the text book to you in class; I could read it myself. I don’t think my parents appreciated that.
What do you like most about blogging? I get to voice my opinion for the little guy. With racinos, the horsemen and tracks have forgotten about the little guy and the big gamblers. They don’t need any handle to race for good money.
“If you could have pursued another career what would have that been? Definitely the horses. I had an opportunity to work one summer with the Haughton Stable at the old Brandywine Raceway and I was too practical. Now, I find working with horses can bring you inner peace, something I had missed in my original career.
Your lifetime racing highlight: Direct Scooter at Monticello Raceway. Direct Scooter was coming off a layoff so his owners probably figured they would race at Monticello and get paid to train. Needless to say the bridge jumpers dumped on him heavy. Both times in the backstretch Direct Scooter jumped off badly, yet he still won. That was an impressive effort.
What other interests do you have outside of racing? Blogging, Country Music, Family, Politics (I guess I need a certain amount of aggravation in my life).
Anything else you would like to say?
“Yes - Harness racing in North America has not been able to take advantage of world-wide simulcasting because program information is so different or lacking.
“There needs to be an effort taken to either standardize the racing program globally or develop a means to provide the needed information in a feed that each nation can get the information they need for their horseplayers so simulcasting globally is possible.
“A thoroughbred gambler can wager 24 hours a day if they want; and a harness player in North America is lucky if they can get 8 hours a day.
“I would love the industry to realize slots are a temporary solution. With states having budget issues, it is a matter of time before slot revenue is cut or cut off totally. During this time when things can change what are they doing? Nothing. Horsemen say it’s the track’s responsibility.
“The tracks are getting rich on slot machines, do they care? So no one does anything and racing stays depending on these machines. At least the horsemen at Tioga Downs and Mohegan Sun at Pocono Downs seem to get it. Not sure many other groups do.
“Regulation needs to be tightened up. Too often a driver loses their license and they head elsewhere. We have had a driver in the United States lose their license for animal cruelty (a horse) and they race in Canada. We need a national body to regulate the sport so out means you’re out.”
By Duane RANGER (editor)
(1) Allan Schott rates as the best racehorse he has seen:
1980 – Little Brown Jug:
(2) winning in 1980:
(3) He also believes Jeff Gural is doing good things for harness racing: