Day At The Track


09:27 AM 08 Dec 2006 NZDT
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Much of the North American harness racing news tends to be a reflection of a graphic “shock value” mainstream newscast.

A racing accident, a positive drug test, a horror story about something that someone has done, a political argument and an obituary. Lost are the Good News stories, focusing on the positives of the sport and the competitors. There exists one such positive story, that for a multitude of reasons, some political, some geographical and some based out of sheer collusion, is not drawing one column inch of ink by any reporting service, “The State of Maine!”

Over the last century plus, harness racing has taken a strong place in the State annuls, being discussed and argued across large, solid oak dinners tables, throughout the local barber shops and watering holes. Along side the discussion of the State Championship Ice Hockey game, the bragging rights over the greatest deer kill or last weekends fishing exhibition, exists the folklore around who’s trotter or pacer would win on Saturday night. These arguments were always conceded as being in Good Fun as part of a family outing to the County Fair.

Unfortunately over the last 100 years the harness horse industry was fuelled financially by the blood, sweat and efforts of the die-hard farmer racing for the true glory of the sport and little in the way of remuneration for his families labours. That is UNTIL NOW!

With the State of Maine voting to allow licensed Casino gambling at the harness racing facilities, the influx of Slot Machine revenues has finally put a respectable purse money in Maine harness racing. Some people say that it is 5 decades too late and that a lot of great horsemen went to penniless graves waiting for this day. Remember the premise of this story, “Lost are the Good News stories, focusing on the positives of the sport”, the money is here now so let us enjoy the rewards.

It is easy to observe the increases in the Maine racing purse structure that have occurred, including the large influx of slot money in 2006. In 1997 the sport paid out $1,999,848 in total yearly purses, averaging $650 per race. With a race winner pocketing 50 percent of that, the $325 cheque never made the books balance at month’s end. By 2004, economics had increased purses however they had hit a plateau with the Average Purse at $1,866, a maximum that was unacceptable. A push of State Government to incorporate Casino Gaming at the licensed Harness Racing facilities was an intelligent solution to all. Harness Racetracks were already in the business of gambling and accustomed to the heavy scrutiny of laws, checks and balances and regulatory verification. State residents could gamble all they wanted anyway with the inception of online poker and off-shore Internet gambling that may or may not be credible. The addition of legalised Slot Machines at Maine racetracks was advertised to be a win-win for all concerned.

The results are tremendous for the sport. The Maine Sired Stakes raced for a few thousand dollars per class, a large reward compared to the average Saturday night dash. In 2005 a leg of the 2-yr old Colt Division was raced in 2:05 for $4709.

Here are the NEW MAINE SIRED STAKES harness race purses:

2006 Division Finals

-yr old Trot Final $48,982 2:09.2

-yr old Colt Pace $49,000 2:01

-yr old Filly Pace $49,143 2:01.1

-yr old Colt Trot $70,289 2:06.4

-yr old Filly Trot $72,350 2:07

-yr old Colt Pace $72,479 1:59.4

-yr old Filly Pace $72,436 2:01.4

With the Stakes race purse structure exploding by over 230 percent and the average race purse in Maine rising 30 percent in one year, with projections for 2009 will include the first $100,000 race. It is very clear that breeding your mare into the Maine program makes financial sense for the first time in history. Where else can a pacing filly make over $70,000 in 2:01.4?

The only concern is can the breed support the large purse structure? Will the buying public be interested in betting on a $100,000 horse race where the entrants are sired by inferior and substandard stock? With the Eastern USA witnessing the eruption of the popularity of harness racing, and an outburst of new tracks and the re-opening and refurbishment of other facilities (ie. Harrah’s Chester, Tioga Downs, Yonkers Raceway, Vernon Downs etc.), there exists a grave concern whether the “If We Build It…They Will Come” mentality will parlay into attracting classy stallions to Maine as opposed to other still more lucrative State programs. In 2005 the multi-millionaire and industry heavy Winbak Farms, sent a new pacing stud to Maine to attempt to rape some of the breeding revenues. VEEZA, an unassuming racehorse who raced for 3 years amassing career earnings of less than $50,000 was somehow to be the answer and replace the likes of LAHAR (a 1990 horse that has a never panned out as a Sire after an 8 year racing career).

To this point the only interesting New Stallion worth reporting on, and that may prove worthy of investing top quality mares to is ROY OLCOTT. A son of SPORTSMASTER (son of Abercrombie), the greatest sire that ever stood in Illinois who has sired winners of over $53,000,000. {144 x $100,000 winners, 292 x $50,000 winners and 330 horses that have won races in 1:55 or faster, with the average starter pocketing over $56,000 in earnings.} ROY OLCOTT’s pedigree is head an shoulders above the present Maine program, with his Dam being a CAM FELLA mare (CAM FELLA 1:531m $2,041,367) and his 2nd Dam being the tremendous race mare STEPATUNE who had won 28 races and over $325,000 in the mid 1980’s.

As a Racehorse, this horse with the US Marine style work effort and enormous heart proceeded to astound everyone. During his 3-year old season, ROY OLCOTT raced 25 times during the year posting 12 Wins, 4 seconds and 4 thirds, amassing an unbelievable record of: 20 out of 25 finishes in the top 3, that included:

A career winning mark of 1:50 3/5m,

Winner of the Cardinal Stakes

Wins of 4 other Illinois 3 year old stakes races,

He raced a 26.0 last quarter in a come from behind Win,

Finishes 2nd in the Hanover 3 year old colt stakes,

3rd in the American National 3yr old colt elim. And

osted 3 race Wins by more than 6 lengths.

Former owner Tom Riccolo watched ROY perform throughout his career. He said “I’ve been around race horses for 20 years, ROY OLCOTT has the biggest heart that I’ve EVER seen in a race horse. There’s not a horse on any racetrack that has the heart of ROY.” He’s the 2nd fastest SPORTSMASTER horse of all time and the 5th Fastest Stallion in history from a CAM FELLA broodmare (Jenna’s Beach Boy, Allamerican Captor, Oye Vay, Sand Olls Dexter).

A great race horse and terrific 3-year old speed does not always guarantee a Stakes Champion foal from the breeding shed, however a program such as the Maine Sired Stakes who is seeing their financial rewards growing exponentially, must hang their hopes on the head of speed to attract both a betting public and the mare owners of America. The sport will not support the ideal of $75,000 or $100,000 races being won in 2:02 by the likes of Pedigrees sired by STEEL FALCON or LAHAR. The future is now! The days of old are exactly that, Old! It’s exciting to see the horsemen of the most Northeast State finally getting their just desserts. Let’s hope that the likes of ROY OLCOTT, who brings the designation as being “The Fastest 3-year old Pacer EVER to stand in the state of Maine”, will aid in the promotion of placing the hard working men and women of Maine harness racing on to the National map. Breeders living outside Maine’s geographical boundaries should also take advantage of this unique opportunity and support the State’s Sired program as there are no restrictions against the usage of shipped semen. $100,000 Stakes Races and $1500 stud fees. Let’s take advantage of this while the balance is sloped in the horseman’s favour.

More information regarding the Maine Sired Stakes Harness Racing Program can be obtained by contacting Henry Jackson, Executive Director of the Maine Harness Racing Commission at 207-287-3221. Information about ROY OLCOTT can be obtained by contacting Norton Farms of Maine 207-797-7577 or HORSES International 506-389-1375.

PS. 50 percent of all stallion fees from breedings to Roy Olcott will go to the HORSES International non-profit organisation to help with horse rescue, rehabilitation and Vocational Education to train unemployed people for a career working on farms.

Brad Dunlop

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