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Stakes Drop Gural's Stallion Rule

Published: March 20, 2015 8:59 am ET

Last Comment: March 23, 2015 11:59 am ET | 8 Comment(s) | Jump to Comments

Trot Insider has learned that the two stakes administrators that required stallions to race at age four in order to have foals eligible to their stakes races have made decisions to drop the requirement.

Representatives with the Hambletonian Society and Woodbine Entertainment Group confirmed the decision on Thursday, essentially impacting Standardbreds bred in 2016.

"Our 2015 conditions state that Woodbine does not take a position in regards to the stallion restriction on open stakes for the 2016 breeding season," Jamie Martin, Executive Vice-President, Racing for Woodbine Entertainment Group told Trot Insider. "As for a reason, I would say it was a number of factors, but primarily we would prefer to focus on incentives to encourage participation rather than to force it through rules."

Martin cited the addition of revised and rejuvenated Confederation Cup as a new four-year-old event for 2015, and stated that WEG will "work to add four-year-old events to the 2016 stakes calendar."

The news was disappointing for Jeff Gural, who crafted the rule in 2011 in order to try to keep harness racing's stars on the racetrack. He feels the breeders of horses will be the ones that lose most from this decision.

"My biggest disappointment is that you would think the people who benefited the most from my decision to step in at the eleventh hour (and save The Meadowlands) -- obviously, the breeders -- would do everything they could to help me survive without the benefit of slots," stated Gural. "In the end they are the big losers because they need to find new people to buy their yearlings and it won't happen if you don't give these people a reason to get involved by making the product the best it can be."

Gural went on to state he plans to shift his stallion eligibility rule to his three racetracks -- Meadowlands Racetrack, Tioga Downs and Vernon Downs -- for all racing that isn't a Sire Stake or Hambletonian Society-sponsored event. That includes overnight races, baby races and qualifiers.

"Since I own the only non-half mile tracks in New York and New Jersey, those horses better like racing on small tracks," continued Gural.

"I think we need a good product if we have any chance of making new customers. They could have waited to see how the Father Patrick experiment and the new Graduate series worked. I am killing myself, the weather has killed us, I don't have enough horses to race even two nights a week...everyone just wants to race here in the winter and with stakes horses and baby race."

March 23, 2015 - 11:59 amMy personal opinion on this

Joe Riga SAID...

My personal opinion on this is that everyone in this business should be doing whatever they can to ensure the Meadowlands survives. If what Mr Gural is saying (that he doesn't have enough horses to even race two nights week) is true then this entire harness racing industry is in very dire straits. Th fact of the matter is this. Racing will ONLY survive if people are betting on it. And true horse fans and serious bettors want the Meadowlands. If the Meadowlands closes then say goodbye to a ton of betting money going through the windows. There is very little appetite for serious bettors to bet on races at half mile tracks where $50 bets greatly affect the odds and the inside 4 posts are winning most of the races meaning these horses already go off at very low odds as it is. Coupled with the fact that true fans and serious bettors want to bet on star drivers Like the Campbells, Tetricks, Gingras, Pierces , Millers etc and these guys should be racing at the worlds premier harness track like the Meadowlands.
If the Meadowlands closes, harness racing for all intent and purposes is dead whether anyone likes or believes it or not.

March 23, 2015 - 9:34 amMr Yamakva, I find no fault

murray brown SAID...

Mr Yamakva, I find no fault with almost everything you say. However there is one segment of the industry that you fail to include at blame and that is the horsemen themselves and the organizations that represent them.
In many, if not most jurisdictions the purse account is in their hands. To a great degree they decide how the money is distributed and to some degree they are responsible for the 16 race cards. Their constituencies are composed of horsemen from all segments of the industry.
In the natural progression of the nature of the business there are far more who have average horses or worse than have quality ones. Thus in most instances, the purse accounts are skewed to favor the majority, those with the horses that don't create new fans.
I firmly believe that what WEG is advocating doing next year with regard to four year old events is the right way to go. It might not be enough to keep all the stars on the track, but it will undoubtedly do so for some, if not many.
There is a point where the purses could be enough where all the stars would remain racing. I have no idea where that point is or perhaps more importantly whether it is attainable.
However I do know for certain that if there are no carrots out there, most horses that have the credentials to enter the stud will do so.

March 23, 2015 - 4:40 amInteresting problem. On one

Will Yamakva SAID...

Interesting problem.

On one hand,we have people saying "this is the right thing, because if the owners dont cash in now, because the breeders can make money off this horse, and the owner can get that payday they might not get if they wait a year until a horse is 4. On the other, we have people like Gural that are looking out for the fans and trying to put a stop to this early retirement thing.

Looks to me as though the breeders/owners that agree with the rule being dropped, do not really have the fan or the health of the sport in mind. By taking the big money now, you are not looking at how this affects any money to be made later. I get that you might not get this opportunity, but in essence, you are creating your own problems.

Fans want superstars. REALLLLLLLLLLLLY hard to have a favorite superstar, when they race for a season or 2. Only true horse fans really care about the breeding of a horse and what not, but in terms of making new fans, how can you expect to keep a favorite horse, if they only race 15-20 times? This isnt thoroghbreds, where they have far more being made and far more fans, this is standardbred, a struggling business that really needs to do all it can to keep and lure fans.

One person asked where the races are for the older horses, and brought up the ridiculous 15 race cards. This is a problem that lonnnnng has plagued the sport. These cards are WAYYYYYYYYY too long and spreading thin the purses. Owners will counter that more win and be able to pay bills when in reality it is slowly killing the sport. The runners seem to have the fans in mind, and you see far more of the stars at 2 and 3, also race at 4 and older. Yes, they do get some early retirees, but that practice is usually as a result of injury and not waiting until it heals before cashing in via breeding rather than racing. There is more money for older horses and more races as well, but that does not change that they never jumped the rush to retire horses like standardbred does.

So indirectly, this is on the breeders. The lure of the big money, created a problem, that might only be fixed by taking money from these ridiculously long cards, and saving up for one or two bigger pursed races for older, better horses, in an effort to keep names in the game longer.

For the breeders trying to pass off the blame, no point, you share in this as much as the tracks do for not having the races to appease you.

March 23, 2015 - 12:22 amI believe that Jeff Gural is

I believe that Jeff Gural is the best track operator in North America and should be congratulated for injecting liife back into racing in New Jersey. But it also important to realize that Mr Gural has bought three racetracks a large number of racehorses and a breeding farm but he did not buy the racing industry. Mr Gural and I are both very frustrated with the lack of clout shown by the regulators regarding drugs and shadow training but I don't believe any participant including racetrack owners can take on that role due to their frustration. In society as much as we want to cheer on vigilantes when we don't think police and the legal system aren't working properly we know it is better to let law enforcement and the legal system work out the problems. Mr Gural and I believe that we need to have more stars stay on the racetrack to promote horse racing, where we disagree is that I don't believe any participant other than regulators can put rules in place that dramatically effects the value of other peoples property. The industry as a whole needs rules to help promote and protect the sport and I believe that participants who have invested a lot of money, whether it is Hanover shoe farm, Ron Burke or Jeff Gural, should have a voice in everything that happens. In this industry but no one should have a veto. Mr Gural has the right to exclude offsprings from certain stallions from the Stakes at his racetracks and every owner and trainer has the right to not nominate their horses to his stakes. If the end result of drawing the line in the sand is lower nominations and lower purses than the other stakes races around North America than Mr Gural will have to rethink his stand, but if breeders don't breed to stallions that don't meet the Gural rules than stallion owners will have to rethink retiring horses after their three year old campaign. Economics will eventually dictate how this situation will play out and the most important factor will be If the Meadowlands were to end up with slots and have the largest purses in North America than the Gural rule will be very important in selecting stallions to breed, yearlings to buy, stakes to nominate to, but until than I predict short fields, low purses and a frustrated track owner. One last question... Can a racetrack owner exclude horses bred by certain farms or persons because of critical posts? I hope not I love this game.

March 22, 2015 - 7:36 amSure Chris Bush, Lay it on

murray brown SAID...

Sure Chris Bush, Lay it on the breeders.
They are of course responsible for all the ills that afflict Harness Racing. Why not blame this on them as well?
What about the racetracks who haven't carded lucrative races and more racing opportunities for four year olds to keep them going? What about the horseman's organizations who direct a large part of the purse accounts to old sometime worn out racehorses and claimers and insist on 14, 15 and even 16 race cards? Couldn't some of this money go to quality four year old events?
What about the owner who has a once in a lifetime opportunity to cash in and is prevented from doing so by an artificial barrier because some people think we are still in the 60s.
Why not blame it on the breeders, the vast majority of whom are losing money, if not hemorrhaging it. They, are undoubtedly the ones at blame.
Sure Chris Bush, its all the breeders fault. As their numbers continue to decline and there are fewer and fewer horses available to fill these 16 race cards, it will still have been the breeders fault. Unfortunately, there won't be many, if any of them around to accept the blame.
PS-There are several breeders who have invested and have invested substantially along with Jeff Gural in the New Meadowlands. They have certainly not invested as much as Jeff has, but they probably don't have near as much money as Jeff has.

March 22, 2015 - 4:45 amOwners should have free

Owners should have free choice to race or breed. Having a four-year old return to race for mediocre purses does no one a favor. Purse money drives decisions.

March 20, 2015 - 1:58 pmDon't lay this one at feet of

Don't lay this one at feet of breeders. Owners of a top 3 year old currently have two choices. Syndicate/sell colt and monetize on him or race him for another year where there is really not the type of racing opportunities that fit like the Sires Stakes/Open Stakes for three year olds. I too feel for Jeff Gural and have great respect for all he has done for racing but of the all three year old colts racing how many stop after their three year old year. The biggest problem in New Jersey is a government that starves racing while continuing to prop up a rapidly declining Atlantic City. The sooner they wake up and start to tap the potential of the New York City/northern New Jersey area through a Meadowlands racino the better.

March 20, 2015 - 10:56 amIt must be exceptionally

chris bush SAID...

It must be exceptionally frustrating being Jeff Gural. Through great sacrifice you save the Meadowlands. You try to improve racing through innovation and forward thinking only to be undercut by breeders. They are clearly the culprits here. Almost always great racehorses(beyond 3) make great stallions. Part of the effect of the four year old rule was it separated the men from the boys, the real from the counterfeit. It's no small wonder the breeders/stallion owners wanted no part of this risk. No more making or benefitting from unsubstantiated claims about a horse's true ability. Don't give up trying Jeff. There are plenty of people that get what you're doing for the long run of the game and appreciate it.


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