Monday, January 6, 2014

Minnesota Races, Racing and Perceptions

My last post generated a comment that I was not sure I would post.  I don't like when folks use anonymity to make accusations or sweeping statements, but this comment was very typical of some of the comments I've been hearing as a member of the Board of the Directors of the Minnesota Thoroughbred Association so I decided to pull out the comment and make a blog post out of it.  My response is not meant to be the be all, end all but simply my view on what seems to be a very large misperception out there about Minnesota racing.

Given the shrinking of the Minnesota foal crops over the last decade, there were bound to be issues at some point filling Minnesota bred races and with the 2013 foal crop likely being the smallest on record, the problem is going to get worse before it gets better: you simply cannot fill maidens, maiden claimers, three allowance levels and three different claiming conditions over five or six claiming prices, short and long (of course) only bringing 80 or so horses to the races every year.  This will change in a few years with the 2014 foal crop poised to be the first increase in years and 2015 promising to be even bigger, but until then Minnesota bred races will continue to be difficult to fill.

Here is the comment and then my response.

Anonymous wrote:

Good luck with Ellie and Bourbonology in 2014!

Hopefully Ellie is able to compete at the allowance or stakes level. Otherwise, you can look forward to the following, if 2014 is anything like 2013:

-MN bred claiming purses that are actually lower than they were in 2012.

-MN bred claiming races that fill but the racing secretary decides not to use them, time and time again.

-MN bred claiming races only being used on Thursday and Friday nights and only at 5 1/2 or 6 furlongs on the dirt. Best of luck to you if it turns out Ellie likes the turf, is a router or doesn't run well under the lights.

The good news is if this doesn't change you will be able pickup yearlings even cheaper this year than they were last year. Was anyone really surprised the sales results were so poor last year given how difficult it is to actually get your MN breds in a race that fits them? Something needs to change or there will be no more MN breds in training before we know it.There is absolutely no loyalty to MN bred owners by track management or the racing secretary.

Thanks for the good wishes and for reading.

My perception on your points are the following:

- Because of the ongoing dispute with Running Aces, nearly a million dollars in purse money is being withheld from their card club revenues that should be going to Canterbury.  The SMSC money makes up this shortfall, but doesn't exceed it.  Purses will at least be level to 2013 which were higher than 2012.

- The accusation that the racing secretary is not using MN bred claiming races "time and time again" does not hold up from what I was able to see.  The number of MN bred races per card has been constant over the last several years even as the foal crops continued to dwindle and the crop up for sale this year will be the bottom, The number of MN breds racing is just going to keep decreasing over the next couple of years before it begins to rise again.  If your definition of "filled" is 4 or 5 horses, our definitions differ considerably. The draw process is relatively transparent so if I were you, I'd watch the races as they fill (you can do that in the racing office on the backside by watching the TV monitor) and make notations of full races that aren't used to bring to the track's attention.  The times that I did this, the MN bred races were not getting more than 5 entries - and even then the track let a few of them go, passing over open races of 9 or 10 horses which did not go over well with owners and trainers of open horses.

I understand that there will be some changes coming this year to try and consolidate the MN bred claiming ranks as well as widen the tag discrepancy between MN bred and open horses when running in open company to help MN bred claimers be more competitive and provide them more racing opportunities.

- While I agree that there seemed to be a considerable number of MN bred claiming races late - especially on Thursday nights; these races were full fields (10 - 12 horses) and placed at a time on the card to give them maximum exposure on TVG at a time when few - if any - thoroughbred tracks were running which resulted in considerably higher handle year-over-year. That's a win for everyone.

If anything, the track has tried very hard to provide racing opportunities for MN breds in the face of precipitously declining numbers. 

The problem is going to be worse the next two years before it starts getting better so I would suggest stepping out behind the wall and join the dialogue.  We (the MTA board) held an open meeting at Canterbury to discuss changes in black type requirements with owners, breeders and track management and many of these issues came up and we had a very lively, interesting and informative discussion that will result in changes that will help us get through this period.  Please come out and join us next time.


flying g racing said...

I think we face a bigger issue with the WV Racing at Mountaineer. I would say there is no doubt that the state bred Horses have to run and compete in open races. I am the GM of Flying G Racing and looking for State Bred Horses is what drives are success as a small budget Stable. Pros and Cons to anything.

Anonymous said...

I appreciate your response and I'm happy to hear there has been some recent dialog about the concerns I expressed in my prior comment. These are real concerns that are shared by many MN bred owners.

While some of my previous comments might be "sweeping statements" and simply my opinions, others are facts that I challenge anyone to dispute:
1) Bottom level MN bred maiden claimers ran for $11,500 in 2012, those same horses ran for $10,000 in 2013. With the infusion of casino money, why would they decrease purses for MN breds? Is it ethical to make sweeping statements in the media professing that purses had nearly doubled when in fact owners of MN bred claimers saw a decline?
2) There were zero turf races in the condition book for MN bred claimers the entire season last year. Plenty of MN breds ran against open company and I have a hard time believing that they couldn't have filled a few MN bred races had they been written. Why can't he be a little more creative? All MN breds aren't dirt sprinters, mix in some route races, how about a few turf races, let's get crazy and write a turf sprint.

As far as the sweeping statements...admittedly I wasn't standing in the racing office watching the races fill, however I trust my trainer is telling the truth when he calls me and says the race filled but they either didn't use it or they brought it back in the extra's for the next racing day. On no less than five occasions, I got this message from my trainer last year. On three of those occasions the horse was supposed to run on a Sunday and they brought it back for Thursday. That's a big deal, as the horse has already breezed in preparation for the race and now you have to choose, do you breeze him again and now you've breezed twice and raced once in a span of ten days or do you just gallop up to the race. You also lose a whole week of training. They should institute a policy that if a MN bred race has six or more entries, they use the race on that day.

Maybe my sweeping statement that management and the secretary have no loyalty to MN bred owners was a little strong. The Sampson's deserve a ton of credit for keeping Canterbury alive through some very tough times. I just wish they, along with the Racing Secretary, would really step up and do everything in their power to encourage us owners and breeders of MN breds to continue to race our horses at Canterbury.

Anonymous said...

When was the open meeting at Canterbury? I visit the mta website all the time and I follow you all on Twitter and I never saw any notice that there was going to be a meeting and never saw anything written about the meeting.

Theodore L. Grevelis said...

I'm not going to take on the position of the racetrack. I did reach out to them and Andrew Offerman offered to speak to you about these issues and would welcome your call.

I will say that I know that the money was not applied equally across all levels and I really don't have an issue with that. The money should be an incentive to breed and buy quality and I don't think you accomplish that by offering a lot of money at the bottom. In fact, some jurisdictions have gone so far as to limit the purse amounts at the bottom of the claiming ladder in order to keep sore and damaged horses from racing just for the money. This was a big deal in, I believe, NY about a year ago after a spate of breakdowns in lower level races.

As far as the meeting, I haven't checked the MTA website (it is down for maintenance as I type), but every current MTA member received an email and then a reminder email as well as postcard invitation to the event. It was well attended as well - we filled the President's Suite at the track, so word did get out.

Theodore L. Grevelis said...

I would add that I did some checking and there wasn't a single MN bred MCL race I could find with a purse of only $10,000 last year though that $11,500 did not increase either - which, as I mentioned before, I don't have an issue with.

I think it IS fair to make the claim that purses have doubled because the purse pool HAS indeed doubled. Not every single level saw a 100% increase, nor should they have. Race days were also increase by 12% last year so, as I'm sure you know, when you spread the money over more days you will get a lower % increase per race - you have to as you add races at a faster clip than you increase the purse pool.

I also checked on the definition of "filled" for you in MN and that, by the agreement with the MNHBPA is 8 horses and, every race that was in the condition book that had 8 horses was used.

I think that at this point you should touch base with the track and discuss specifics with Andrew if you have other questions or comments but I hope that this helped. This kind of dialogue is useful and important but the comment section of some goofball's blog probably won't help affect too much change!

Thanks again for reading and taking the time to engage!

Anonymous said...

Sorry, I thought one of the great things about blogs like this one is they create good dialog between fellow horsemen. If my comments upset you or make you feel like you have to get defensive, I will refrain from commenting in the future.

Let's stick with the facts:
Fact 1: There were MN Bred Maiden Claiming races last year with a purse of $10,000.

If you couldn't find any, you didn't look very hard. I can understand they may be hard to find in the entries, since they didn't use many of them, but they are all over the condition book. Reference: May 26th S1, May 27 S1, June 9 S1, June 22nd 1...the list goes on.

Fact 2: I never suggested all the extra purse money should be spread evenly across all races. I simply called out that purses for MN bred maiden claimers actually decreased from 2012 to 2013.

I agree with you that we should be encouraging breeders to breed better horses and rewarding those at the top vs those at the bottom. However, the horses we have today are what we have. The future looked terrible a couple years ago and not very many of us were breeding top quality horses in MN. Why aren't we rewarding those breeders/owners for sticking with it through the tough times and giving them fair portion of the Sioux money?

Touting in the media that purses have doubled, while decreasing purses for the local owners of MN breds, to me is unethical. It's also not a good strategy for keeping MN breeders and owners feeling good about the near term future of our local industry.

Fact 3: New York did reduce purses for low level claimers due to an increase in catastrophic injuries. However, the purse/claiming price ratios in NY at the time were between 3.9-5.3/1. That means $7500 claimers were running for $29,000-$40,000 purses. Our ratio for $7500 MN Bred Maiden Claimers was 1.3/1.

We have a long way to go before we can start drawing any comparisons to those numbers.

Fact 4: Your claim that "every race that was in the condition book that had 8 horses was used" is completely outrageous and untrue. Each race day, there are approximately 9 races listed, plus 3-5 substitute races, plus 2-5 extras from the previous day. Of those 14-20 races, they only use 8-9 races. It is very common to fill more races than they need. When that happens the Racing Secretary decides which ones to use, which ones to bring back the next day, and which ones to skip. According to my trainer, who I followed up with today and he confirmed, many times they skipped or brought back MN bred races last year. All I'm saying is I would like to see a policy that they use any MN bred races that fill and they aren't allowed to skip them or bring them back the next day.

I'm surprised that you as a fellow owner/breeder and an MTA board member wouldn't take a more objective view of these issues. If we keep saying "it's going to get worse before it gets better", instead of finding ways, such as some that I suggested to try to make things better this year, it may never get better.

Good Luck!

Andrew Offerman said...

Just to be clear:

1. The minimum MN-Bred Maiden Claiming Purse last year was $11,500. The races you reference in your comments with a purse of $10k are all N2L races, not MCL races. There is a difference between these conditions.

2. Purses weren't decreased for local horses. That's plain and simple. Additionally, claims that purses doubled were always in reference to the fact that total purse distribution doubled between 2011 and 2013… (from roughly $6 million to $12 million) never once was it claimed that purses doubled between 2012 and 2013.

Additionally, if you are going to continue to ignore the difference between total purse distribution and average purse distribution, it's going to be challenging to have a serious dialogue on the subject. They are completely different items… total distribution is a factor of both races and days in addition to the purse of the race.

3. Any race that is in the body of the condition book and receives 8 or more entries is used. That is a contractual agreement with the HBPA. This policy does not pertain to Substitute and Extra races.

Thus, there were instances where Substitute or Extra races may have had more than 8 horses but were not used. However, as someone that sat in the Racing Office for more than 95% of the entries last year, I can tell you that it was a rare occurrence that a race received 8 or more entries and was not used.

I'd be happy to discuss these and any issues personally. Please feel free to contact me if you wish to have more dialogue on these or any other issues.

Andrew Offerman
Canterbury Park

Theodore L. Grevelis said...

@ Andrew Offerman - Thanks for weighing in on behalf of the racetrack and being so open to dialogue and discussion.

@ Anon - I'll leave your facts alone since the track response handled that well enough. I do want to address one item:

- We're not just throwing up our hands. As of this point we have worked (myself, Mary Malkerson and Richard Bremer as members of the racing committee of the MTA board) with the racetrack to tweak the 2014 condition book to consolidate MN bred claiming levels to help fill races as well as produce more MN bred winners and more opportunities to race; increase the claiming price gap between MN breds racing in open claiming races to offer more protection as well as making them more competitive; temporarily changing the MTA Stallion Auction Stakes to provide for a much larger purse in order to make the race more attractive; and looking for creative ways to fund that MTA race in the future so we can run two divisions once again. No one is sitting idly while waiting for things to improve but are actively working to affect change.

I appreciate the dialogue - even if you prefer to remain anonymous - and no one is being defensive. I can only do so much and referred you to the track for more direct and complete dialogue. As you can see, the track is open and willing to engage with the horsemen but can only do so if you reach out to them.

I think we've beaten this as much as possible and will close the dialogue at this point. I would again encourage you to walk through the door that Andrew opened and sit down and talk with him about your concerns.

Best wishes for 2014 and the MTA will continue to work with the MQHRA, HBPA and Canterbury Park to for the betterment of Minnesota racing.

Anonymous said...

I felt like an idiot when I realized I made a mistake by referring to $7500 claiming non winners of two as $7500 maiden claimers. I was all set to craft my apology message but then I decided I should go over the numbers for myself to test Andrew's claim that purses weren't decreased for local horses.

I compared purses for the bottom two MN bred claiming levels for Maidens, Non 2s, and Non 3's in 2012 vs 2013:
Maiden Non2L Non3L
$11,520 $11,400 $11,970 -2012
$11,500 $10,000 $11,000 -2013
$(20) $(1,400) $(970)

Maiden Non2L Non3L
$14,080 $14,820 $15,960 -2012
$12,650 $13,000 $14,000 -2013
$(1,430) $(1,820) $(1,960)

The numbers don't lie. Purses decreased year over year in all six categories.

Then I thought, maybe they decreased purses for all lower level claimers, so I did a similar comparison with open company:

OPEN COMPANY $5k/6.25k
$9,000 $10,000 $10,500 -2012
$10,000 $10,000 $11,000 -2013
$1,000 $- $500

OPEN COMPANY $10k/12.5k
$11,000 $13,000 $14,000 -2012
$11,000 $13,000 $14,000 -2013
$- $- $-

As you can see, 2 of the six categories increased slightly and the rest remained the same.

I'm not saying Andrew isn't being honest, because I'm sure if you add it all up there was more money paid out to MN breds last year, but the simple fact that I've been trying to get across is if you had a MN bred, lower level claimer in a race in 2013 it earned less money than it would have in that same race in 2012. That is a terrible message to send to MN owners. If you really want to keep MN bred racing alive over the next two years you need to give us a bigger piece of the pie. If we go backwards again at any MN bred level in 2014 you might as well only write 2 year old MN bred races in 2015.

Regarding the rules on which races they use and don't use, I'll take your word for it. But that means my trainer isn't being honest with me so I'll have to monitor it myself this year. Is the contractual agreement with the HBPA public information that anyone can access?

Ted, I'm happy to hear you and the MTA are being proactive. I like all the ideas you listed. However, I really think you need to keep pushing for:
-better distribution of purses at all MN bred levels
-lowering the number of entries for MN bred races to be considered filled
-offering more options than dirt sprints on Thursday and Friday nights for MN bred claimers

Thanks for listening!

Andrew Offerman said...

Ok, appreciate the additional information. I believe that I now better understand what you're looking at and your analysis. I apologize for not catching on sooner.

An additional component to consider regarding the the Minnesota-bred purse is the Minnesota Breeders' Fund Supplement.

If you look at the races in question that you referenced… you'll note that BF Supplement money was included in that race category in 2012 but not in 2013. That was a decision made by the Racing Commission's Advisory Committee.

To the best of my knowledge, this decision stemmed from a rule change that was enacted in late 2012 which shifted a substantial amount of Breeders' Fund Purse Supplement money into Breeders' Fund Breeder and Stallion Awards to be paid to Breeders and Stallion owners in the state of Minnesota.

I agree with you that the end result is confusing and, when comparing post Mystic Lake 2012 figures to 2013, creates a strange scenario that is unique to those lower level purses.

Still, if you look at what has happened across the board from 2011 purse levels, which I argue is a far better measurement for comparison, all categories are up substantially. It wasn't that long ago that Maiden Special Weight races were being run for $18,000 and low level claimers were running for $6,500.

This agreement is pushing us into uncharted waters with some pretty complex purse issues. I appreciate your detailed description of the issues. Hope that my info has been helpful and am still willing to talk if you have any interest or unanswered questions.

Regarding the HBPA agreement, if you are a licensed owner, the HBPA should be willing to share that information with you. I believe they'd be the best party to reach out to in order to better understand their agreement with CBY on that issue.

Hope that I've been helpful,

Theodore L. Grevelis said...

Thanks for the detailed questions and explanations. I hope it's been helpful to everyone that took the time to visit and read through it.

Again, I would encourage Anonymous to reach out to Andrew for a more in depth discussion if he/she feels that it's necessary.

I appreciate the dialogue and especially taking the time to read and comment.

Anonymous said...

Theodore, why do you seem to be so bothered by this guy commenting as anonymous and why are you discouraging additional comments. I don't agree with all of his statements but he brings up some good points and asked some good questions. What does it matter who he is? I have enjoyed the back and forth between anon and Andrew.

Theodore L. Grevelis said...

Please don't misunderstand me. I don't have a problem with folks posting anonymously and I also think that the discussion was very valuable.

However when someone posts in terms that can be viewed as attacking (saying that the track management is destroying racing, that there is some type of conspiracy in the racing office, calling people unethical, etc.) is, to me, something that should have a name attached to it. THAT is my issue: stand up and take responsibility for your views and statements and don't hide behind "anonymous".

I have found that when having discussions there is more decorum and civility when folks are open with each other.

Finally, the track has been very open to discussing specifics with anyone and as this discussion ranged further it appeared that the answers were all out there and any other, more personal, issues that anon may have needed to be taken up there and not here.

Thanks for reading and taking the time to comment.

Anonymous said...

Appreciate your take on this...guess I didn't take anon's comments as attacking anyone in particular. But then again we do live in a world of thin skinned emos. I don't think he/she ever said there was a conspiracy, just expressed an opinion that maybe mn breds weren't getting a fair shake.

Not everyone is the type of person to attend meetings and speak in crowds. I think you should encourage and appreciate when someone chooses your forum to express their opinions whether they choose to use their name or not. Just my humble opinion but then again I'm "hiding" behind the autonomous curtain too.

Clarence Moss said...

Am I reading this right? Did purses actually decrease for the MN bred categories as this person suggested?

If so, that's pretty shocking given all the positive publicity in the media about Canterbury and how great that agreement is for the local horse industry. I have seen too many tracks spend all their time and money trying to attract the out-of-towner's and forget about their own. Unfortunate. If the grass gets greener somewhere else, those out-of-towner's will be gone as quick as they came and then the locals that are left will become important again. I hope they do the right thing in 2014 and take care of the locals.

Theodore L. Grevelis said...

Hi Clarence. Thanks for reading and taking the time to comment.

MN bred purses were not decreased. As the representative from the track stated in his last response, purses are up significantly from 2011 across the board and in 2013 Breeder's supplement money was moved from the purse to Breeder's awards so the effect was that breeder's that bred successful horses made more money at the end of the 2013 season, allowing both owners and breeder's to benefit from the agreement.

Anonymous said...

Get it right Clarence...purses increased by 25% overall last year...they only decreased for OWNERS of MN bred $15k and below claimers (over 50% of MN bred owners). So everybody except those unfortunate owners should be tickled.

Oh well, it doesn't matter anymore. What matters now is what happens in 2014. Do those same owners see another slip? Do they leave their cheap claimers in the pasture or worse yet send them to market? Only time will tell.

Clarence Moss said...

The anonymous guy mentioned a drop in sales prices at the MTA yearling sale last year. It doesn't seem like anybody is commenting on that. I looked up the sale prices and they clearly were much lower but I couldn't find any commentary on the MTA site or anywhere else. What's your take on those results Ted? Do you believe there is any correlation with the issues discussed here? i.e. lower purses, no route or turf races, no weekend races and lack of races used for MN bred claimers? What do you expect for 2014? Maybe a good future blog topic. Thanks.

Theodore L. Grevelis said...

Hi Clarence,

Here is the body of my DRF brief on the sale, published the day after the sale:

The Minnesota Thoroughbred Association’s 2013 Thoroughbred and Quarter Horse yearling and mixed Age horse sale, held on Saturday night, posted a slight decline in gross receipts and larger drops in average and median but also resulted in a record number of yearlings sold.

Officials with the MTA attributed the record 42 yearlings sold to the increase in purses at Canterbury Race Track and to stability in the state’s racing industry.

The sale generated total revenues of $308,100, a four percent decline from $320,300 in 2012. The sale’s average of $6,555 dropped 37 percent from the previous year’s auction average while the $4,000 median fell 27 percent; both numbers set records in 2012. Last year aside, Saturday’s average was the highest since 2007 and median the highest since 2008.

Four 2-year-olds and one broodmare were also purchased at the sale.

The sales topper was a Kentucky-bred chestnut filly by Horse Greeley out of the Silver Deputy mare Suffragette Kitty, a half-sister to Grade 3 winner and $700,000-plus earner Cat Be Nimble. Consigned by Prairie Hills Farms, the filly sold for $45,000 to trainer Vic Hansen for owner Brenda Reiswig.

This is strictly my opinion and my opinion only - not in my role as an MTA Board member or DRF writer - but I don't view the sale as a disaster at all.

Given how small the foal crop was the number of entries for the sale and the number of yearlings sold was impressive. It needs to be remembered as well that this year's yearlings are part of the smallest foal crop in MN history and could influence the sales numbers as well.

Because of the purse agreement, I think that the very best MN breds are NOT being put up for sale as the breeders' want the opportunity to race them or sell them privately. However the large amount of horses that changed hands (for Minnesota) I think is a testament to the optimism provided by the agreement.

This is just my opinion and I'm aware others have a different opinion. Time will tell but I'd be willing to bet that the yearling sales of 2016 and beyond could be record setters once again. Additionally, once the Running Aces dispute is settled (rumor is that it is close) and we get another year into the agreement, I think ALL owners will see an increase in purses over current levels.