Sunday, August 08, 2010

Trot on! Hambletonian Winner Muscle Massive is a Jersey Boy But Might He Be the Last?

"Rumors of my death are greatly exaggerated," is a line attributed to Mark Twain. The same could be said of The Meadowlands racetrack in urban New Jersey. Rumors from Trenton this summer suggest that the governor and state legislature might like to bypass support for casino-type gambling there in favor of other venues in the state. New Jersey's horse industry--much of it based in small Standardbred racing and breeding operations--is up in arms.

So when the $1.5 Million Hambletonian, the world's most famous trotting race, went off at The Meadowlands on Saturday afternoon, a crowd of 26,712--the highest attendance in five years--was on hand to watch, and a plane flew overhead with a banner asking them to "Save the Meadowlands".

The winner of the Hambletonian, a sparkling and regally-bred three-year-old bay colt named Muscle Massive, is a Jersey Boy and could be the poster child for Save the Meadowlands. He was bred right in New Jersey, at Perretti Farms. He's the son of Muscle Yankee, winner of the Hambletonian in 1998 and sire of 2008 Hambletonian winner Deweycheatumnhowe and 2009 winner Muscle Hill.

Muscle Massive clocked the second fastest final in Hambletonian history. The record was set by his sire.

If the horse is sound and that fast, credit must go his farrier and this horse has a good one. Congratulations to Conny Svensson (left) on shoeing his third Hambletonian winner. He also shod Malabar Man in 1997 and Scarlet Knight in 2001. Conny's most famous charge was the great and legendary globe-trotting mare Moni Maker.

Conny didn't comment about how the horse was shod--he had shod three horses in the race--but the trainer had this to say to Hoof Beats: "We raced him in steel shoes last week and I did that just for safety because he pulled a muscle, just to make sure he wouldn’t go off stride. I put aluminum shoes on him for today."
Harness racing is much more popular in attendance in Canada and in Europe than it is in the United States and yet The Hambletonian is still the one that every owner in the world would like to win. International wagering was nearly $2.4 million, up from $1.97 million wagered on the 2009 simulcast. Total wagering worldwide was $8,391,600, on the full card of yesterday's races at The Meadowlands.

Ah, but then in other parts of the world horse racing is often the only form of gambling, and the sport is a little more secure.

Muscle Massive is owned by a consortium of Swedish and Canadian interests and trained by Swedish native Jimmy Takter, who said in an interview that if The Meadowlands closed he would probably look for a different job.

A plane pulled a banner over the Meadowlands Racetrack on Saturday during the Hambletonian. The USA's richest Standardbred racetrack is endangered.

It seems like wherever I go, there is a crisis in the horse industry, and it usually has something to do with expanded gambling and state legislatures. I'd like to know how much better off the states with gambling really are; I think it is too soon to tell. What I can tell is that the pressure is on. New Jersey is caught between Delaware and Pennsylvania, where gambling is in at the racetracks; it is promised to come to New York at Aqueduct, a long stone's throw across the expansive marshland that gives The Meadowlands its name. The squeeze is on. 

Kentucky feels the same kind of pressure. Maryland has struggled. Texas feels threatened. And here in Massachusetts,  our governor flatly refuses to save racing and insists of backing resort casinos identical to the ones in the state next door.

Politics and horses have never mixed, but this is the future of all the horse industry that is at stake here. When the racing goes, other services go with it. Sport horses and pleasure horses will suffer, vets and farriers will suffer, hay and grain supplies and prices will suffer. And those are just the big ticket items at the top of the list.

It's one big chain of dominoes. Just ask the owners of Perretti Farms, the largest Standardbred farm in New Jersey, where Muscle Massive's sire stands.

To learn more:
New Jersey Star Ledger's analysis of the effects of racing changes on vets, farriers, and sport horse industry in the state by Nancy Jaffer

Article about winning trainer Jimmy Takter and his comments on a future without The Meadowlands

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