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Jack Darling's Blog

 

Concerns With ORC Proposals

Published: December 19, 2010 9:03 am ET

Last Comment: December 22, 2010 8:43 am ET | 13 Comment(s) | Jump to Comments

First of all, I applaud the ORC for their efforts to improve harness racing. I have very limited knowledge of the details of the new plan but I think I understand most of what they are trying to do and I believe some of the changes would be positive but I do have concerns with two parts of it.

The first is with a plan that would send purse money from Woodstock to Windsor. When I look at the race results from Windsor Raceway I see that the majority of the purse money is going to the US. I don't know what the exact figures are but I have heard it is about 60 per cent or more of the purse money leaving Ontario. I am not protectionist at all and I have no problem with Americans racing in Canada but in this case it doesn't make sense to take purse money from the Woodstock area, send it down to Windsor and have most of it go to the US from there. As the ORC says, this is public money so it should be used wisely.

My second concern is with regards to conditions being the same at all tracks; conditions like last 3 starts, money earned-not wins and purse management (limits on purse money). My opinion here comes strictly from a horseman's point of view.

To turn a profit in the horse business you have to run it like a business and a big part of that is being able to classify your horses where they can make money. Historically, claiming races have been the best way to do this. An owner or trainer had some control over their destiny by entering their horse in a class where it could make money.

For some reason, claiming races in Ont. have become scarce in the last few years and the only other way that a trainer can classify his horse to his best advantage and have some kind of control over his fortunes is to enter him at the track that suits him best. The size of the track could be a factor, the way the conditions are written, etc. As a trainer, I like having these options. Their is nothing more frustrating than trucking a hundred
or more miles down the road to race your horse in a class that you know he has no shot in.

Having the same conditions at all tracks such as earnings in last three starts, takes the bat out of the hands of the trainer. When each track has different conditions like last three, last five, etc., a trainer can classify his horse at the track where he has the best chance to make money with that particular horse on that particular day.

I also dislike the idea of every track having the same conditions for young horses based solely on winnings and not wins. Again, this limits the options of a trainer. With each track having a different set of conditions a trainer can race his young horse where it is best suited. I realize the thinking is that an owner, trainer, driver might try to keep his horse in a nw1, nw2 etc but that is a matter of opinion and that is what we have judges for.

Again these opinions are coming strictly from a horseman's point of view but to run a business profitably you must have options.

As far as having limits on purse money at some tracks, I think of certain horses that perform well on a half mile track. An owner can have a horse that is a good open performer on a small track but very mediocre on the big one. Where the owner and trainer choose to race this horse can be the difference between making good money or just breaking even. It doesn't seem fair to punish this type of horse. I understand the intent of the proposed changes in this regard but care should be taken not to put up barriers to horsepeople trying to make money.

These are some of my concerns and I am sure there are lots of other opinions out there. The ORC has asked for our input so we should take advantage of that.

December 22, 2010 - 8:43 amIf Windsor starts punishing

John Roelof SAID...

If Windsor starts punishing the USTA horses in Canada,they will not fill the races cards.The draws are close to filling the cards now.

I do agree that there needs to be more claiming races at Windsor and they need to cater more to the customer base.I also think that online betting should be open to the states. It is just too much of a hassle to cross the border to come to Windsor.

December 21, 2010 - 4:18 pmThe problem with the orc

John Carter SAID...

The problem with the orc proposal is pretty much the same as every other proposal put forth by the industry. Ir doesn't really do anything for the customer/gambler that will make any difference long term. When will this industry catch on to the fact that with out the customer you have nothing, you are nothing.The customer has to come first above all else. Why can't the industry catch onto this. This industry has been chasing there customers away for years. I see nothing in this proposal that will stop the mass evacuation of horse players to other forms of gambling like sports and poker.

December 21, 2010 - 2:27 pmIf we don't protect our

Norm Brunet SAID...

If we don't protect our industry then whom will ?

After all are the breeders not tax payers ? Are the Ontario owners not tax payers ? Mr McIntosh " Protectionism does not work in our business. " What jurisdiction can you use as an example, Pennsylvania, Delaware, New Jersey. Other then the latter, which their demise has nothing to do with protectionism they are very healthy jusisdictions.

I am not concerned about the top end of the purse pool which goes to the Grand Circuit and Open class aged horses but more with the lower end horses which supply 99.9% of horse races in Ontario. Some tracks do recognize the importance of our breeding industry and give allowances to Ontario breds only, while others ignore this very important industry and give allowances regardless of where they were bred.

I have no idea why some tracks do it and others not. Some horse are beeing claimed at one track and brought to another because of the disparity.

I think that we can all agree that the purses are beeing subsidized, however this subsidy is coming from the Ontario goverment, therefore, from Ontario tax payers so then why are we so quick on giving it to exterior interest that do not pay or encourage the breeding or provincial economy.
In order for a foreign bred horse to race in PA you have to fit a certain criteria.

Winner of 5K in last 5 starts
Never have raced in less then a 10K straight claimer
or/and PA owned.
This way PA. ensures itself that foreign bred horses in PA. are of top quality and increases the quality of their race product. I do believe that this is the model that Ontario should follow.

December 21, 2010 - 1:18 pmI applaud the ORC for

I applaud the ORC for finally trying to better the product and give all horsemen the opportunity to make a living in this business.Why should people in the greater Toronto area race for great money while others like people racing at Windsor barely can make ends meet. Traditionally, this is when the bad things like race fixing and doping become prominent and give this industry it's black eyes.

It's utterly ridiculous for Woodstock to be offering purses in excess of 10,000 and handling 15,000 for 12 races.For years now the conditions on races have become literally a joke. What ever happened to straight claimers without all these idiotic conditions attached. You need a PHD to figure out how horses fit in these races. More often than not you see 5 conditions put on a race then they throw in that famous AE 9,000 claimers. You look at the caliber of horse in that race and most often you couldn't buy one leg from the horses entered in there for 9,000 so how is that fair to the owner of the legitimate 9,000 claimer having to race against horses coming down from preferred races or high condition races. tag all together

Another good idea would be to get rid of the non-winner tag and making it strictly money won. This would eliminate trainers,owners and drivers from finishing second and third so as not to have to move up in class. I've seen so many horses with tons of money on their card still racing in a non-winner of 2 because their lines look like this 1 win 10 seconds and 10 thirds. Mr Darling you said that is not for you to decide but for the judges well you have driven horses too in your career and I don't have to tell you how easy that is to do. There is no rule that I know of that prevents you from sitting you horse on the rail and moving him very late in the race to just get up for second or third so what can a judge do about that. There are plenty of people who do that and these are the things that give the industry it's bad reputation.

From strictly a betting perspective I applaud the Bob McIntosh's of this business his horses try to win every start and if they get beat it was by a better horse that night not because he wanted to finish second to stay in that class. Go back to straight claimers and fair conditions for horses and then this industry might have a small chance of attracting back all the betters they have lost along with people who use to be in this business as owners. I don't want to see my 9,000 claimer in against a horse who has 50-70 thousand on his card this year because the condition allows it.

December 21, 2010 - 11:48 amn.r. i was watching wo. the

n.r. i was watching wo. the other nite and was surprised to see how EVERY field left WITHOUT all the horses on the gate.
is this allowed? how does this make the $2 bettor feel?
also, the GIGANTIC holes the drivers left for the outside leavers to get into.
the buddy system lives at the o.r.c.
stop worrying about where to shift the purse money and start worrying about where the purse money will come from starting next year.
the gov't. in ontario is bankrupt. you think new jersey is alone?
HANDLE DECREASES EVERY YEAR BECAUSE OF ONLINE GAMBLING. WAIT TIL NEXT YEAR.
also, for once and for all , at least make the game look respectable!
when a talent like macdonald has to start tweeting ,the end id near.

December 20, 2010 - 5:29 pmI only take issue with your

Bob McIntosh SAID...

I only take issue with your first opinion Jack. You state that it would be a mistake to send money from Woodstock to Windsor, the fact is many of the same trainers race at Woodstock and Windsor. However not many WEG trainers race at Windsor, so what you are saying is keep the money at Woodstock so that WEG trainers can come in and scoop those big purses. May I remind you that the on track handle at Woodstock is pathetic and they do not simulcast.Let Windsor purses increase and the product will improve and we all know the handle will increase if the bettors are given a better product to bet on. Protectionism does not work in our business,may I remind you that both of us have taken our fair share of purse money from U.S. tracks.

December 20, 2010 - 2:25 pmJack Darlings comments

chris bush SAID...

Jack Darlings comments concerning the need for the varitey of conditons at the various tracks is dead on. Firstly, of the top ten issues facing racing this ranks about 50th. Why the ORC is pursuing this now and how they think its in their mandate is puzzling. A one size fits all framework usually results in an inferior system that benefits no one. We have one track that races for too much money- Woodstock- and we're going to change everything for that?

And funneling or rewarding money to a track that has been for all intense and purposes negligent in their duties is idiotic. Time after time people have expressed their concerns at the deplorable conditions at some tracks only to have it fall on deaf ears by the ORC. Same with the backstretches etc. These are an infinitely more important issues if we want to revitalize racing than worrying about condition sheets. It seems like only the marginal issues get any attention.

Part of the reason for the lack of claimers is the drug abuse problem, which may never be fixed. Rightfully so,legitimate owners/ trainers were sick of putting their horse in for a price only to have it get claimed and drop 3 seconds the very next week. Also there isn't the pool of owners there used to be largely because of the negative issues facing horse racing.

Since these changes are likely going to be implemented anyway no matter what the feedback as in the past, here are a couple of suggestions. Firstly if you wish to protect Canadian interests your condition has to read owned or sired. I support my local feedmill,hayman,tackshop and vets only to be written out of a race because the horse is US bred. Meanwhile someone from NY or Michigan can come in and scoop the money and leave if ther horse is Ont sired. We're one of the few jurisdictions that do this. Never understood that one. Secondly, can we please get rid of two yr olds drawing inside in a maiden. Surely there are enough two yr olds to write a maiden expressly for them especially early on. And if not make it two year olds preferred so they face only a few older horses. Its patently unfair that if you have a 3 yr old you're relegated to the 5 6 7 or 8 hole on a half mile track from july til december. Ontario is the only jurisdiction that does this. Perhaps some minor changes may be of some benefit. Wholesale changes are not necessary.

P.S. When was the last time a horseperson had his fine stayed?

December 20, 2010 - 12:32 pmOne of the comments I have

Imeson Helen SAID...

One of the comments I have heard for the last few years that stays around is "What is a horse that goes that fast doing in that race?" Referring of course to the speed the lower end races are going. Yes a horse needs to be in a race where it can make money - of course. However as it has been stated it loads up the bottom races terribly, and the horses that should be in those races now have no chance for a cheque. I have heard from some prominent horsepeople stating that there should be no cheap claimers. Not all horses can race at WEG level. How can we keep people in this business as owners???? Do we really want to eliminate marketing ALL our horses. I agree with keeping money in the community - at the track - where it was raised - as was the original mandate.
I don't agree however with all races should be claimers. I think a good cross-section should still be there. As far as bettors go what do they care if it's a claimer or not? They only care that every horse and every driver, trainer and owner go into the race with the intent of winning.

December 20, 2010 - 10:55 amI've owned standardbreds and

I've owned standardbreds and bet thoroughbreds for many years. Each breed has things they do well and both could certainly learn from each other.

When it comes to "classes" I much prefer the thoroughbred system where the majority of races are claimers. Add conditions like Mdn, nw2 etc to a claiming tag and competitive fields are assembled. A purse structure that rewards winning with 60% of the purse means that winning is where the money is. At the higher end, Allowance races and Allowance / Optional Claiming make for competitive fields of good horses which attract significant wagering dollars.

The other positive of a claiming based system is that it can be exactly the same at every track regardless of purse structure. The end result would see the cheapest horses at the tracks with the lowest purses and the best ones at WEG which is what the laws of supply and demand dictate.
Condition races such as NW2 races or $25000 are simply a bad idea. The incentive to win would be far greater if the race were a $20000 claimer for NW2. This would also be a better betting proposition that would likely attract more wagering dollars. For me from an owners standpoint, money conditions can be a wonderful way to make money by not winning, from a bettor's perspective its a race I prefer to pass.

December 20, 2010 - 11:55 amI'll limit my usual

I'll limit my usual ramblings to the concerns you have expressed about the standarized conditon sheet. I too have voiced my opinion on the subject to the O.R.C. about standardizing conditions at all racetracks, with the exception of W.E.G. who does not appear to have to fit the model they are seeking. The idea was explained to us as a way to funnel horses who should be racing at W.E.G. to it's tracks, will this ultimately be the result -- nobody knows and there in lies the problem.

My view is that conditons should be set by the race secretary at his/her track as they continually review the horses they have in their own particular region and write classes according to the demand. Should they be written simpler for the new racing fan to understand or so it doesn't take a lawyer/mathematician to figure out eligibility, yes. Should they be the same at every track no.

There are a few technical aspects that may be adjusted with regards to earning allowances etc. that may work to benefit but overall I don't see a pressing need. I think the timing is suspect as this has been something that O.R.C. has wanted to do for some time and using the current crisis as an excuse is not a good approach. Will there be an out if and when somebody makes a determination that this approach is not working or will it just drag on till it's too late as was done in the case of the once upon a time claiming rule that was implemented and wasn't pulled till it had all but killed the claiming game.

Are there problems with purses being to high at some tracks relative to W.E.G.'s yes and hence the shortage problem at W.E.G. However forcing a cap of the same amount of money at all tracks doesn't seem like the correct approach, it's not good business for either the horsemen or the tracks. There maybe times when you want to adjust your purses up to attract bigger or better fields at any given time during a season or down say for example in the middle of January when you have 100 fans and little interest in your product.

Purse budgeting should be between the track and it's horsemen, some tracks want to go for more and maybe if it were to be some ridiculously high amount then the regulatory authority could step in and caution against. In our case here at Kawartha working with our horsepeople we have effectively been capping the purses lower here for several years to keep the money locally as I see it.

I know what it does do is provide the lowest common denominator of quality and calibre of racing and if that's what being promoted we should all be against. There have been times when I personally think we should be having better races for more money however I'm in the minority. In short although there has been considerable time and effort looking for solutions to the current problems that plague the industry standarized conditions - is not nor has been the biggest issue on the table.

December 20, 2010 - 9:14 amJack, I have to echo Lynne's

Todd Spencer SAID...

Jack,

I have to echo Lynne's comments - there needs to be more focus on the fans instead of what makes the most sense for horsepeople. I attend Rideau Carleton on a regular basis, and, unless we were eating in the dining room, I wouldn't dream of inviting someone to the track. The place is a dump - as is the case with a lot of tracks.

Instead of sending purse money from Woodstock to Windsor, why not use it to support a local country fair or matinee racing and try building this sport up again from its roots? Ontario racing doesn't have the facilities (with exceptions, of course) to bring people to the races, so why not bring the races to them and get a fair circuit up and going again!?

December 19, 2010 - 7:13 pmThis is a very interesting

Lynne Magee SAID...

This is a very interesting concept from the ORC. I've looked through it several times and have similar concerns as posted earlier. I'm also wondering what the ORC intends to do about the situations at racetracks such as Windsor and Woodstock that are in such a state of ill-repair and are an embarrassment to the industry--not fit for man nor beast. I found a couple of references to the advancement and expansion of the current system of racetrack standards such as track surface standards. Perhaps the excess purse money that they intend to direct towards Windsor purses could be better used where it originates to rehab Woodstock and Dresden. The ORC has, apparently, ignored the problems that plague these three tracks. Bob McIntosh stated at the recent Windsor meeting that he is too embarrassed to take anyone to that track in its current state. The ORC's plan addresses race schedules, the classification of races and purses which is going to impact the horsepeople but there doesn't appear to be much about how they will promote the product. Cleaning and sprucing up the venues for our product would be a much needed start.

December 19, 2010 - 4:42 pmMr. Darling, Identifying

Mr. Darling,

Identifying that we need to voice our concerns is a major stepping stone for our industry, and something all should take on a more serious level. Like most struggling industries, we've failed to stay ahead of the curve and on the up and up, settling instead for status quo. As a group we are collectively afraid of change and this has hampered us in the position we see ourselves today.

While there are many points that need to be discussed, Id like to refer briefly to your second point. While I understand your concerns as a trainer, my concern as a trainer comes from the other side. Our condition sheets and purse structures for the last 5 years may have been the major death of this industry. Not only have we completely cut out the claiming game, which in essence has dropped the price on many horses, we have also drawn horses away from the tracks they "should" be racing at. You mentioned protectionism, which is exactly what inflated B track purses with liberal conditions has allowed the trainers/owners of WEG claimers to do by dropping them in your local B track opens and higher end conditions. This is a lengthy debate, one that could be typed for pages, but you need only to check out B track entries and results to identify this problem on a large scale. As a trickle down effect, B track horses all get pushed down levels, which essentially ends up flooding the bottom end claimer market making it hard to get in even forcing some people out.

Im all for improving the quality of animals we have racing, encouraging people to invest in new stock, young stock, BETTER stock. That being said, we must also improve the quality of racing by ensuring competitive fields 1 through 8,9 or 10 by having horses race where they rightfully belong.


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