The following Open Letter is from Alan Schwartz, President of the Monticello Harness Horsemen's Association I offer this to help those who are concerned about the future of harness racing in New York State. Please allow me to answer some of the queries I have received from horse racing fans and others about the contract stalemate with Empire Resorts at Monticello Raceway. The Monticello stalemate is about saving our industry from those private New York racetrack operators who want to morph into standalone casinos. It is about an effort to stop the track owners from destroying harness racing by actively telling legislators and other government officials in Albany that increasing the track operators' profits and shortchanging racing is the right thing to do. The New York Gaming Association (NYGA) members (consisting of all seven NY harness track owners, as well as the owners of Finger Lakes Racetrack and Resorts World in Queens) are hell bent on maximizing profits for themselves through the death of the Agriculture and Racing industries. They do this by pointing to racing deficiencies they themselves are orchestrating. Consider that, despite the fact that New York State offers racino operators a dollar for dollar reimbursement for marketing racing, most don't spend a dime marketing the sport. Worse still, the track operators blame the horsemen for not cutting purses to market the sport; of course, unlike the track operators, the horsemen would receive no reimbursement. By not marketing racing with money literally given to them by the state, the tracks simply seek to hasten the end of racing. The sooner they get rid of racing, the more money will flow into their pockets from VLTs, and soon slot machine and table game revenue. The tracks continue to receive roughly half of all racing and simulcasting revenue, but that apparently isn't good enough for them. Think again about these racetrack operators going to Albany and hiring virtually every lobbyist in the state to sell a bill of goods. They argue that the state should limit the future of the agriculture and racing industries by capping payments and stifling the growth of a 4.2 billion dollar industry and the livelihoods of 32,000 people. Then they argue for a better tax rate for themselves on casino games. All the while, they have the audacity to trumpet their support for racing and agriculture on their website. They are fooling no one. NYGA argues that the renaissance in racing should be stopped because the horsemen are getting too much from the expanded gaming revenue the VLTs have brought to New York. They selfishly hide the fact they make three-fold the amount the horsemen receive. That doesn't account for all of the related sales they make, like on a $4 bottle of water. Funny, but the law they lobbied for doesn't cap their revenue. Putting a cap on the future of racing is today's latest assault on our industry. As the harness track operators gain casino growth and exponential power in the state's capitol, don't be surprised if you see deeper racing industry cuts in the future. Plug in any state capitol you want; Albany; Harrisburg and, don't be fooled, Trenton too. Monticello is the first to face this challenge directly. The Monticello Harness Horsemen's Association supported a casino here, thinking we would not be neglected. We extended our agreement with the track for at least eighteen months before the stalemate in an effort to try to work things out. First, we want to see what the law would provide. Then, we waited to see if the statewide casino amendment would be approved in early November. Later that month, Monticello slammed the door in our face. Obviously, NYGA has drawn the line. The hope was to negotiate something fairer than a 2013 purse level cap and a yearly consumer price index (CPI) increase. The yearly CPI is negligible, hovering at about 1.4%. In one recent year, it was actually a negative number. Think about how much the price of diesel or a bag of sweet feed has gone up in recent years. The cap and CPI 'increase' would assure our destruction. Realize that instead of growing purses at the current 8.75 % VLT level (and N.Y. Sire Stakes by 1.25%), the tracks will now have slot machines; this permits them to get rid of VLTs and the horsemen and breeders' percentages that flow from them, while the tracks increase revenue and grow. These track operators engineered a law that will, for all intent and purposes, freeze our industry out of existence in the long term. Tell your supplier of feed, your vet and blacksmith that they can't raise their prices above 2013 levels in the years to come because of the selfish action of the NYGA track owners. Think about all the free play money doled out to the VLT players, while a handicapper gets but a torn up ticket on a horse race at the same venue. As was said not too long ago "If you don't fight for your future, you may wake up one day and wonder why you don't have one." MHHA's leadership has tried, and continues to try in good faith to negotiate with management something that is fair and reasonable. We seek to moderately share in their casino revenue success above the cap foisted upon us by them in the latest version of the law. The MHHA has very few weapons in this fight, but we would be even more foolish after eighteen months of failing to realize some progress not to use them. We are aware that the exported simulcast signal and its pools are important to the loyal fans of the daytime harness racing Monticello and its horsemen provide. We are also acutely aware of the loss of revenue to the track, the horsemen and the industry. Yet, we have pondered just how much money these track operators strive for while they jeopardize and entire industry for their own profit; a racing industry that worked hard to spawn the birth of VLTs at tracks in this and other states. We cannot just sit by and watch an industry get swallowed up by a handful of track operators professing to be concerned about our sport, whose ultimate goal is to kill it. The right to withhold the export of signal from Monticello across the N.Y.S. line is a right granted to horsemen by Federal law. That 1978 law very wisely recognizes that the horsemen at a host track are the real guardians of this sport. It armed the horsemen with the important tool to use only when they perceived a crisis threatening the very existence of the game. It has been used very sparingly and with the utmost of caution. I recall the law being invoked in 1987/88 by the horsemen at Roosevelt Raceway when management refused to sign a contract with anyone in order to clear the path to closing its doors. Ultimately, management not only closed, but stole the overnight purse account on the way out the doors. Also, as an MHHA board member in 2006, we withheld simulcasting consent here at Monticello. At Roosevelt, had permission to simulcast been granted, its Management would simply have taken even more money from the horsemen's pocket when its plan to close was realized. At Monticello, we have watched these developments over the years. We can no longer support a casino here that excludes the growth we have all; agricultural; racing and breeding shared, over the years. We will not fold up our tents and watch our game be destroyed by greed. We remain hopeful that the N.Y.S. mediator, appointed by the Gaming Commission, will continue to work to bring us to some common and sensible ground upon which to preserve each other's goals in a reasonable, and not one-sided, fashion. After eighteen months, we would welcome some progress. Hopefully, the next time you hear from me, the news will be better for our game. -
Yesterday historic Pompano Park celebrated its 50th birthday. The harness racing dream of Frederick Van Lennep became reality in 1964, when it developed, opened, flourished and following his death in 1987, was managed by the late John A. Cashman, Jr. for the Van Lennep estate. They had many other assets including Lexington's famous Castleton Farm, Wolverine Raceway, the Red Mile in Lexington and multiple tracks in Italy, until sold in 1994 to Casino America, Inc. (now Isle of Capri Casinos, Inc.). The selling amount was subject to upward adjustment in the event a constitutional amendment was passed permitting casino gambling. The buyers agreed to continue standardbred racing at the facility. The sale followed failed negotiations to sell to the then owners of Hollywood Greyhound Track and Hazel Park near Detroit. The real story, however, takes place many years before, when in 1926, another racetrack was located on the site. It proved to have an interesting history with government intervention, not unlike today's equine industry. In that in 1926, the $1.25 million construction of the original Pompano Park, with grandstands that could seat 7,000 fans, was completed. The mile track, made of clay and sand, was 100 feet wide and many years later served as the hub of the famous training center at Atlantic Blvd and Powerline Road. The grand opening was celebrated on Christmas Day 1926 and huge crowds of spectators reportedly poured into Pompano on chartered buses from around Florida. The track might have been an immense success but there was a barrier (in Florida, at that time, pari-mutuel betting was illegal). It said, racing was to start Christmas Day until Governor John Martin branded Pompano Park "a center of law breakers" and threatened to send the military to plow up the track and "plant it in cowpeas" unless racing ceased, and it did. The original Pompano Park was then used for automobile races, Polo and boxing matches, without lasting success. In 1928, two years after the track opened, a hurricane ravaged South Florida with 2,000 fatalities and many injuries. Pompano Park became a savior as it was used as a Red Cross station to aid more than 1,000 hurricane victims. Subsequently, the track became dormant until 1953, when Fred Van Lennep, then a prominent Kentucky horseman and former advertising executive, spotted the old track from an airplane. Van Lennep saw great potential for a future racetrack. He purchased the land and immediately began plans to construct a new facility. After lobbying for many years, Van Lennep was able to get pari-mutuel legislation on the ballot and in 1962 it was overwhelmingly voted into law. Van Lennep fulfilled his dream, and his promise, and built what was the well-designed state leader of horse racing tracks. The new Pompano Park opened on February 4, 1964 to a crowd of nearly 6,600 people. The track featured a "state of the art" grandstand, clubhouse and restaurant facility and for the many owners (who also had access to an owners' club), trainers, drivers and caretakers, three racetracks, two being one mile and half mile training tracks and a five-eighths mile main race track. Once completed, there were stalls for 2,000 horses, living quarters for more than 500 caretakers, a swimming pool for horses, a nine-hole golf course and driving range. The main facility featured one of the largest dining rooms in South Florida with seating for more than 800 people. Van Lennep's wife, the renowned horsewoman, Francis Dodge Van Lennep, loved pink flamingos and much of the track was painted in that color. Named the "Winter Capital of Harness Racing", Pompano Park grew in popularity among people in the sport, plus leading celebrities enjoyed their nights at the races. Notables Ed Sullivan, Minnie Pearl, Jackie Gleason, Mickey Rooney, Frank Sinatra, Walter Matthau, Sammy Davis Jr., Rodney Dangerfield, and many others came to Pompano Park regularly along with leading sports figures Whitey Ford, Mickey Mantle, George Steinbrenner, Arnold Palmer, Charlie Keller and Lee Elder. They were regulars during the season and Ford, Steinbrenner, Palmer and Keller became horse, farm and track owners. Years later, celebs still came out for a night at the races including Pulitzer prize-winning author and columnist Dave Barry, baseball's Dennis Martinez, Dolphins quarterback Jay Fiedler, UK and NBA basketball's Sam Bowie, also a prominent standardbred horse owner and breeder. During the 1980 and 90's Pompano Park bloomed at its 331 acre site (including the 180 acre training center that was sold years later for industrial development), hosting the prestigious Breeders Crown numerous times as the world's top Standardbreds, owners, trainers and drivers trained and raced during the winter for some of the sports' richest purses. Records fell annually with the sports' greatest reinsman, the "Gold Dust Twins" Stanley Dancer and Billy Haughton, calling Pompano Park their winter home. The tracks biggest night was on December 27, 1980 when the great pacer Niatross arrived at Pompano Park There were 18,451 fans on-site to see the remarkable pacer, barred from the betting, team with trainer and Hall of Famer Clint Galbraith to a 1.54.3f win by open lengths. Reportedly another 5,000 fans had to be turned away, as cars were parked on the median divider of Powerline Road and across the street in Palm Aire after all racetrack parking areas had been filled to capacity. Every mutuel pool record was rewritten by the fifth race that evening. Pompano continued to play a leading role in the Standardbred sport during the early Breeders' Crown years with its Van Lennep Trotting Series that attracted many of the best US aged performers and some Europeans. John Cashman was a great supporter of international racing and the Van Lennep was his and Pompano Park's trotting showcase during that era. One such event I remember best occurred in 1987. Re-live it below with Dave Joseph's memorable stories. European Flavor Adds Spice to Van Lennep Invitational By DAVE JOSEPH, Racing Writer, October 4, 1987 Pompano Harness Track`s $150,000 Frederick Van Lennep Invitational Trotting Series has lured five of the six European trotters that were extended invitations to compete in the two-race series. The Van Lennep, run over a mile track Oct. 24 and a 1 1/4-mile track Oct. 30, will have Germany`s Reado, Norway`s Scott Iran, Finland`s Black Laukko, France`s Quito du Couronne and Big Spender, who has campaigned throughout Europe. The only trotter who declined the invitation was Sweden`s Emile, second twice this year to two-time Breeders Crown winner Grades Singing. Van Lennep Trot Lures Three of the Best By DAVE JOSEPH, Racing Writer, October 18, 1987 POMPANO BEACH -- For the past four months they have crossed paths. First New Jersey, then New York, finally Illinois. In pursuit of being named Aged Trotter of the Year, Sugarcane Hanover, Tabor Lobell and Express Ride have battled on three tracks. But after the three meet tonight in a $10,000 invitational trot at Pompano Park, the trio will have only two more chances to lay claim to seasonal honors. World record holder Express Ride, two-time Breeders Crown winner Sugarcane Hanover, and Invitational Challenge Cup winner Tabor Lobell will use tonight`s invitational as a prep for Pompano`s upcoming $150,000 Frederick Van Lennep Invitational Trot. Express Ride Sets Pompano Mile Record By DAVE JOSEPH, Racing Writer, October 19, 1987 POMPANO BEACH -- It was supposed to be a leisurely prep race; a chance for some of the trotters racing in the upcoming Frederick Van Lennep Invitational to get a feel for Pompano Harness Track. Ah, but it was so much more. World record holder Express Ride, driven by Berndt Lindstedt, trotted the fastest mile in Pompano`s 24-year history Sunday night, clocking 1:56 2/5 in the sixth race, a $10,000 invitational trot. It broke Grade`s Singing`s record set in last year`s Van Lennep by 3/5 of a second. Hey, Big Spender Spent A Little Time with Malaise By DAVE JOSEPH, Racing Writer, October 24, 1987 POMPANO BEACH -- The travel plans, Berth Johansson thought, were firm. Big Spender, his 6-year-old horse, would trot in West Germany Oct. 11, then be shipped to Paris the next night and prepare for his trip to Pompano Park and the Frederick Van Lennep Trotting Series. How much easier could that be, Johansson thought. "We would race Sunday," the Swedish trainer-driver said. "Then he would sleep, wait 24 hours, and then go to Paris Monday night." Simple, right? But four hours after trotting two heats in West Germany, Big Spender was loaded on a train and spent the next 20 hours riding to Paris. Express Ride Gets Leg Up In Van Lennep By DAVE JOSEPH, Racing Writer, October 25, 1987 POMPANO BEACH -- The opposition put it this way: "He`s a monster," trainer Jim Gluhm said. "What else can you say?" Gluhm, trainer of Tabor Lobell, was speaking for all of the estimated 6,000 here who witnessed the performance of Express Ride. The 4-year-old world-record holder won his fifth consecutive race Saturday night when he led throughout the $50,000 Frederick Van Lennep International Challenge over a mile distance at Pompano Park in 1:56 4/5. Reado, an 80-1 long shot from West Germany, finished second by 1/2 lengths. Tabor Lobell`s Finale To Be In Van Lennep By DAVE JOSEPH, Racing Writer, October 29, 1987 POMPANO BEACH -- There was really nothing distinctive about that morning, trainer Jim Gluhm said. It was just like any other May morning at Pocono Downs in Wilkes-Barre, Pa. "It was cool," Gluhm said. "And there wasn`t much sunshine." That morning, in fact, probably would have slipped from Gluhm`s mind if it wasn`t for one of his workers running out to the track and saying, bluntly, `What the hell are you doing?` "I was starting to train Tabor Lobell to go a 1 1/4 miles and 1 1/2 miles when the horse`s groom came running out asking me that question," Gluhm said. Tabor could handle the distance as on August 30, 1987 he upset many of the best in the sport to win the 1-1/2 mile $100,000 Challenge Cup at Roosevelt. Tabor Lobell Wins Challenge Cup: Tabor Lobell, a 25-1 shot driven by Buddy Gilmour, held off Callit of Sweden last night to capture the $100,000 Challenge Cup, a mile-and-a-half invitational trot at Roosevelt Raceway. The 4-year-old son of Speedy Crown-The-Pro raced third over most of the event, but caught Callit, winner of the International Trot last week, at the head of the stretch. The two went neck and neck to the finish, and Tabor Lobell won by a head, covering the course in 3:03 3/5. Whip It Wood, driven by John Patterson Jr., took third. Tabor Lobell's victory, only his second in 12 races, was worth $50,000 and pushed his career earnings to $199,095. Tabor Lobell was third in the International Trot behind Sweden's Callit and Potin d'Amour from France. (NY Times archives) Record Falls in Van Lennep Sugarcane Hanover Upsets Express Ride By DAVE JOSEPH, Racing Writer, October 31, 1987 POMPANO BEACH -- There was silence on the other end of the line for several seconds before trainer Jim Simpson could express his feeling. "I`m ecstatic," said Simpson. He paused. "I got a tear in my eye." Simpson`s tear came courtesy of Sugarcane Hanover, who came out of hiding at Pompano Harness Track Friday night in world record fashion. After finishing second and ninth to Express Ride in his last two races across Pompano, John Simpson`s Sugarcane Hanover returned to form here when he trotted past 4-5 favorite Express Ride in the final yards to win the $100,000 Frederick Van Lennep International Championship by three-quarters of a length. Sugarcane Hanover with Gunnar Eggen up winning 1988 March of Dimes at Garden State over Ourasi, Mack Lobell and Napoletano by Thomas H. Hicks for Harnesslink.com
Even before a new movie featuring the trotter Tarok and his owners and breeders, the Laursen family, has hit the screen, Tarok is the talk of the town. On Saturday (Oct. 26), two daily national newspapers each ran a special supplement of six to eight pages just featuring Tarok! National and local TV stations, especially around the little town of Skive where Tarok was born and buried, aired several stories about the film, the horse and the people around him. In Skive, the town hall, together with the local racetrack, has made four tours where fans can see the places where Tarok and his people lived. The local museum has even made an exhibition about Tarok. Tarok was born in 1972 and raced 156 times. He won 111 races. In 1977 he raced in the International Trot at Roosevelt Raceway and no less than 600 Danish fans followed him to New York. When he died in late January 1981 he was the top story in the news on national TV and in every newspaper in Denmark. You can watch a trailer for the upcoming Tarok movie at this link. by Karsten Bonsdorf, USTA web newsroom correspondent (Repritned with permssion from www.ustrotting.com)
Owned by the A La Carte Racing Stable of California and trained by the late-great Jim Dennis, Mr. Dalrae was one of the most popular and successful pacers to race on the Chicago circuit in the early and mi-1980s. Mr. Dalrae was named the 1984 Aged Pacer of the Year as a 5-year-old when he pulled down $474,525 while winning 18 of 30 starts, mostly against the elite older pacers in the nation and in Canada. (He’s showed in the photo winning one of his many races at Sportsman’s Park with his young, bearded, up-and-coming star driver Dave Magee) Among his victories in the 1984 was the American National at Sportsman’s and the U.S. Pacing Championship, a tri-city stake raced on three different size ovals. Mr. Dalrae that year came from fifth at the top of the stretch and shop up the inside to take the mile leg at the Meadowlands in 1:52.2. He followed with a victory in the half-mile leg at New York’s Roosevelt Raceway in 1:56.2. The horse also captured the Canadian Classic, all with Dave Magee. In 1985 Mr. Dalrae repeated as winner of the U.S. Pace Championship, based by points earned, by capturing the five-eighths leg at Sportsman’s Park. The son of Meadow Skipper out of the dam Queen’s Crown repeated as the American National Aged Pace titleholder that year with Dale Hiteman at his lines. In his final year as a racehorse Mr. Dalrae won another eight races earned $322,800. His dam Queen Crown also produced Sir Dalrae, the 1973 Horse of the Year for owner/trainer Jim Dennis. Videos attached of Mr Dalrae winning the 1984 US Paing Championship at the Meadowlands and the second video is of Mr Dalrae running second to On The Road Again in the 1985 US Pacing Championship. Mike Paradise The Illinois Harness Horsemen's Association
Now that the budget is done and the governor and the Legislature have moved on to the issue of a constitutional amendment to allow full-scale casino gaming in New York, it is critically important to understand the significant economic gains that have been realized by our revenue-producing racing and agriculture industries as a direct result of the existing video lottery terminal (VLT) initiative at our race tracks and, more significantly, to recognize how this success could all be put at risk.
In Governor Cuomo's State of the State speech today, he called for the casinos to be built upstate, in an effort to bring some of the tourism dollars out of New York City according to Crain's New York Business.
The New York State Racing and Wagering Board today released two comprehensive and searchable databases to the public: a detailed list of every horse that has broken down, died, sustained a serious injury or been involved in an incident at a track in New York State since 2009; and a list of every fine and suspension issued by the Board to licensees for nearly three decades.
To the NYS Senate Committees on Racing & Wagering and Judiciary - Testimony from Joe Faraldo regarding proposed constitutional amendment for full Casino Gaming in New York State. This is a must read for all administrators, all trainers, drivers, owners, breeders, punters and supporters in the Harness Racing Industry. This is about long term survival for our Industry and not short term gains!
The Empire State Harness Horsemen's Alliance - comprised of the SOA of NY, Western NY Harness Horsemen's Association (Buffalo & Batavia), the Saratoga Harness Horse Person's Association, the Harness Horse Association of Central NY (Vernon Downs) and the Monticello Harness Racing Horsemen's Association - today applauded new legislation recently introduced in the NYS Legislature.
New Jersey harness racing trainer Linda Toscano works a team of 40 from her Freehold base - 20 of which she terms as babies' - but ask her who the pick of her youngsters is and the 55-year-old shudders at the thought of being forced singling out her best one or two.
New York tracks and OTBs have been given clearance by the state racing and wagering board to videostream races, starting immediately. With the new ability to see races they are betting on, New York players are expected to welcome the development in telephone and Internet betting.
In the wake of the shutdown of New York City Off-Track Betting Corp last week, state Assemblyman J. Gary Pretlow said he believes a consolidation of the state's remaining five regional Off-Track Betting companies is something that is feasible and necessary to preserve New York's harness racing industry.
The annual membership meeting of the Standardbred Owners Association of New York, the representative body for the over 1,000 harness racing owners, trainers and drivers regularly competing at Yonkers Raceway, was held on December 4.
I am writing as someone who has a large stake in the viability of New York's Harness Racing and Agriculture industry.
Organizers of the Roosevelt Raceway reunion -- Randy Perry, Fred Hudson, Lucien Fontaine and Judy Bokman of the Standardbred Retirement Foundation -- announced that the two-day event starts Saturday (Feb. 20)at Pompano Park with a Roosevelt Raceway night and concludes on Sunday with the reunion party.
There's nothing like a bit of harness racing nostalgia. Remember that great American pacer of the 1980s Cam Fella? Well you can take a walk down 'Memory Lane' with him by watching the champ winning his 23rd race in a row at Yonkers Raceway. His 24th straight win at Roosevelt Raceway was also pretty impressive.