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Jay Bergman: Yonkers Raceway going international

Jay Bergman: Yonkers Raceway going international
By Jay Bergman

Joe Faraldo and the SOA of NY have fought hard for a full racing schedule.
Yonkers Raceway has a slot-infused purse structure. To some that would be a reason to rest on its laurels but thats not the case with the Standardbred Owners Association of New York. The group recently signed a new contract with track management that paves the way for a renewed focus on the business of betting on harness races.
Joe Faraldo, president of the owners group, was proud of the new agreement.
I think the most significant aspect of the contract is that we were able to maintain a full racing schedule, said Faraldo.
Under Faraldos stewardship, the SOA of NY has managed to keep a full-year racing schedule since the inception of slot machines at Yonkers. While many other tracks, including those supported heavily by slot revenue, have moved towards shrinking the racing schedule, Faraldo has maintained a commitment to the horsemen and the dates. A total of 236 racing dates are slated for 2014.
It was a long process. They (track management) wanted to reduce the dates to around 200 but we fought hard, said Faraldo.
The owners group made a very positive hire last year when Alex Dadoyan took over as its Executive Director. Alex is doing a great job, said Faraldo. His knowledge of the simulcast business has been extremely valuable over the last year.
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At Yonkers, simulcast money is something the track has been looking to build on over the last few years. Faraldo suggested that the group worked diligently to link the Westchester County facility with betting outlets in Australia and New Zealand over the last few years. The results have been solid.
We first started doing business in 2012, said Faraldo. Last year we did three times the handle we did in 2012 from Australia and New Zealand.
Thats the good news.
The bad news thus far is that money wagered Down Under is separate pool wagering. That means the money doesnt go into the pools those in North America wager on. Thats something that hits at the core of what Faraldo, Dadoyan and the rest of the horsemens group is trying to accomplish.
If we can get to the point where we can co-mingle money bet outside of North America with our pools it would be huge, said Faraldo.
As part of the new contract, the horsemen were able to change part of the schedule in a way that appears designed to reach new markets.
Weve asked and management has accepted a change in the schedule, said Faraldo. Beginning on October 7 and going to the end of the racing calendar in December we will race in the afternoons on Tuesdays.
The move appears to signal the potential to add markets in Europe where standardbred racing enjoys more universal popularity than it does in the U.S.
Faraldo and many members of his group will be heading to France next week to witness first hand that countrys most celebrated trotting event, the Prix DAmerique.
The race itself was at one time a unifying force joining France and this country, in that quite often, the champion of that race would come to race in the Roosevelt International later in the year.
Faraldo touched on international competition briefly. As an amateur driver he has competed in Europe and has spoken quite often of sponsoring races that can bring foreign horses to these shores. I think we have the ability to bring horses from Europe here for a two-week series, said Faraldo.
A revival of the Roosevelt International at Yonkers is certainly something that many in this sport had wished for. The International gave trotting incredible exposure over 50 years ago. The race could take on an entirely different audience in modern times with simulcasting and the Internet allowing viewing and wagering throughout the globe.
Of concern to Faraldo is the need for a past performance program that would be similar to whats used in Europe.
The horsemen as a whole seem to be very concerned about wagering on the product and have at times offered suggestions to the race office in order to perhaps shift races and make them more competitive.
I think we have to get more horses racing back in claimers, said Faraldo.
One of the dangers of racing five-nights a week throughout the entire year is complacency. While Faraldo would like to see more higher-level claimers raced because they naturally produce a better betting product, what has happened is that racing secretary Steve Starr routinely cards two or three races for the same high-level non-winners conditions.
If trainers know they are going to get in the box every week no matter what, there is no incentive for them to drop into a claimer, said Faraldo. I dont like it when we get 1-9 shots.
Like many others in the industry, Faraldo is concerned about the excessive presence of cobalt in a horses system. I think more has to be done before we can develop a rule for horsemen to follow, Faraldo said. We have to know what the threshold should be first.
Faraldo of course worries about any situation where horsemen are considered guilty without rules even being put into place. His group has spoken with the New York State Racing Commission about purchasing equipment to test for cobalt and would be willing to assist in its purchase. If were going to help spend in the neighborhood of $250,000 for a machine, I would like it to be able to test for more than just cobalt, said Faraldo.
Its not the first time Ive heard of horsemen using cobalt. I recall a big name trainer maybe 20 years ago using it, said Faraldo.
Yet Faraldo spoke of cobalt like any other element or drug that could be given to a horse in excess. I think people try to do things and they produce a good result and then the horse just crashes, Faraldo said, with an implied awareness that most horsemen would steer clear of additives that could have a detrimental long-term impact on a horses life.
Increasing the handle seems to be a number one priority to the horsemen and it appears the SOA of NY is moving forward trying to capitalize on their first-class product.
No matter how much slot money can be used to help sustain purses, the sport of harness racings future depends heavily on its popularity as a wagering option.

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