Sunday, March 30, 2014

Morrill Banned at Pocono, Has No Idea Why

There’s a reason why Jim Morrill Jr. has yet to drive a race this year at Pocono: he has been banned.

Morrill, who was the third leading driver last year at Pocono and is widely considered one of the very best in his profession, said he has heard no explanations from track management and the only way he
knows he is not welcome is because trainers have told him that every time they try to enter a horse with him down as the driver the racing office tells them they must choose someone else.

“I have no idea what’s going on there,” he said. “I just know they won’t accept any entries with me down to drive. I’ve been calling around to everyone there to try to get an answer and no one will call me back.

I’ve called (VP Racing Operations) Dale Rapson a bunch of times and left messages and I hear nothing back.”

Rapson did not respond to an email message from Harness Racing Update asking for information on Morrill’s status.

Morrill said he has asked attorney Howard Taylor to take up the case and see if he can’t get some answers from Pocono, but Taylor’s job won’t be an easy one. Privately owned racetracks are not required explain their decisions when ruling someone off.

“I like driving there and I give 150% every time I am out on the track,” he said. “I don’t know what this is all about. I know it can’t be anything major because I know I haven’t done anything wrong. I haven’t failed a Breathalyzer test, I haven’t fought with any racing officials. I didn’t fix any races, I didn’t drug any horses.

Since 2010 Morrill has had 588 winners at Pocono and has won at a 21 percent rate. Unable to drive at Pocono, Morrill has set up shop at the Meadowlands, where he is driving the Ron Burke horses while Yannick Gingras is participating at Yonkers in the Matchmaker and Levy. Morrill will also pick up plenty of business on the New York sire stakes circuit.

He says one of his primary concerns is to pick up enough drives this year to remain eligible for his pension.

Written by Bill Finley of Harness Racing Update

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Foiled Again, Burke Dominate in Levy

On a miserable, rainy night the story at Yonkers was no different than it was last week and it probably will be more of the same as the Levy series continues. You can’t beat Ron Burke and you can’t beat the 10-year-old Foiled Again.

In a virtual re-run of last week’s rendition of the Levy Burke won three of the four legs and failed only in the third Levy on the night when the P.J. Fraley-trained Mach It So scored an upset win at 20-1. That’s the same Mach It So who won last week over Burke. Fraley and Burke are the only trainers to have won 2014 Levy races so far.

The betting public was so enamored with the Burke entry, which consisted of Foiled Again, Aracache Hanover and Hillbilly Hanover, in the 11th race that there were bridgejumpers in the win pool. Yonkers did not allow place or show betting. Of the $56,387 bet in the win pool. $54,143 of it was on the Burke trio.

“He can’t surprise me anymore,” driver Yannick Gingras said of Foiled Again prior to the race. “He’s done so much in his career and he’s not done yet.”

This was Foiled Again’s 200th career start and it’s hard to imagine any were any easier. Having drawn the four post, Gingras didn’t waste any time as he took his geriatric wonder right to the front, controlled the pace through modest fractions and was never seriously challenged. Stablemate Aracache Hanover was second. It was the 78th career win for Foiled Again.

Burke’s first Levy win on the night came with Bettor’s Edge in the fourth race. He finished 1 1/12 lengths ahead of stablemate Clear Vision and went in 1:53.4 over the sloppy track. The win was his second straight in the series.

Written by Bill Finley of Harness Racing Update

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Friday, March 28, 2014

Steve Asmussen, PETA and Harness Racing

On the surface, the firestorm surrounding Steve Asmussen, the PETA undercover investigation and the cruelty to animals charges has nothing to do with harness racing.

Asmussen trains thoroughbreds, and it's easy to argue that that sport is far less humane than harness racing. Their horses die in droves on the racetrack. A standardbred dying on the racetrack is a rare sight.

But harness racing cannot afford to ignore the story, or the controversy. This is about far more than just Asmussen and thoroughbreds. It is about how the American public feels about the abuse of animals.

People don't like it and they will not accept it.

Not just any sport, but any business that involves animals had better make sure that the welfare of the animal is a major priority. If it's not, the will of people can destroy that industry.

The will of the people at work: [Rooster] fighting was once a popular activity in this country. Today, those fights are illegal and the very idea of them horrifies most sensible people. Dog racing has been outlawed in Massachusetts and elsewhere.

SeaWorld is dealing with a severe backlash and protests that resulted with the movie documentary "Blackfish." The movie delves into the consequences of keeping killer whales in captivity.

In a lot of circles, the circus is no longer looked upon as an innocent family-friendly activity but as a business that exploits animals. Many people refuse to attend,

Harness racing, by and large, has not had to deal with any welfare issues. That's a benefit of being a sport that operates far away from the spotlight and is more or less ignored by the media and the American public. There are things you can get away with when no one bothers paying attention to you. That doesn't mean it is okay or smart business.

Can harness racing look at itself in the mirror and really say that it is doing the very best it can when it comes to the welfare of the animal? Sorry, but the answer is no.

Standardbreds arrive at slaughter auctions at places like New Holland and Sugar Creek in truckloads week after week and very little is said or done about it.

Drivers kick their horses in the moment of battle in the stretch and about the only thing that ever happens to them is a $100 fine.

There are trainers who think nothing of using illegal and dangerous drugs to improve the performance of their horses and outside of Jeff Gural no one seems to want to do anything about it.

How do you explain to the man on the street that it's common practice for drivers to slash their horses with a whip?

Do horses really need all the legal drugs that are out there that they can be given? Is this pharmacological cornucopia really the best thing for the animal?

Written by Bill Finley of Harness Racing Update

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