April 04, 2020

Commission must look into, address race date overcrowding

Tonight is the final race date for Northern Maine Fair. Saturday’s racing card was cancelled because not enough horses were available to make up the mandatory eight-dash program. The supply of Maine and Canadian horses has been stretched pretty thin this week with three tracks Topsham Fair, Scarborough Downs and NMF – racing.

The Aroostook country track has struggled just to get enough horses to keep its racing program afloat during its annual agricultural fair. But this year, there were not enough horses for the final day of racing.

“We only had 15 or so horses in the box that was eligible to race on Saturday, so we had to cancel,” Paul Brown, race secretary said Thursday. “I used everything I had to fill the Thursday and Friday program,” Brown said, “and there was nothing left for Saturday.”

In tonight’s 10-race program, one division of the 3-year-old pacing colts will be raced off for a $5,350 purse and the $1,300 Walter Reed Memorial will be the ninth race feature. Post time is 7 p.m.

The failure of NMF to have enough horses to race once again points out the fallacy of attempting to race three tracks simultaneously in Maine. It is a continuing problem that must be addressed con-jointly by the Maine State Harness Racing Commission, the Maine Association of Agricultural Fairs and the Maine Harness Horsemen’s Association at winter meetings.

It’s difficult to understand how there can be an open week (with no fair racing) just before Farmington Fair and a doubling up of fairs during prime racing dates in August that creates horse shortages. Some adjustments in racing assignments need to be made. Any illness that visits Presque Isle today eventually visits all Maine race tracks.

Topsham Fair closes out its week-long fair race meet with eight races tonight, beginning at 7 p.m., and eight races on Saturday (2 p.m.).

On Sunday, harness racing moves to Skowhegan for seven days of racing in conjunction with the 180th edition of the historic Skowhegan State Fair. Race secretary Ken Sumner has a 10-race program for the Sunday opener (2 p.m. post). During fair week racing at Skowhegan, post time is 7:30 p.m. Monday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, and 2 p.m. Saturday.

The MSBS moves to Skowhegan next week with the 2-year-old trotters and pacing fillies on Monday; 2-year-old pacing colts on Wednesday; 3-year-old trotters Thursday and 3-year-old pacing fillies and pacing colts Friday.

On Saturday, Aug. 22, Skowhegan will feature the $4,000 Walter H. Hight Memorial Pace, an annual tradition at the track. An additional $4,000 is up for grabs if the current track pacing record is broken. Skowhegan’s pacing mark is 1:55.2, set by Autobot and George Brennan Jr. in the 1992 Hight.

One of the agenda items at Monday’s meeting of The Maine Harness Racing Commission in Augusta was the explanation of a controversial race at Scarborough Downs Sunday, May 17. In that day’s fifth race, the five horse, Thatsalliaskofyou, was announced as a scratch and removed as a betting interest from the tote board.

Just before post time, it was announced that the five horse would race and she was relisted on the tote board. She won the race in 1:58.4 and I, along with other members of the New England Harness Writers Association, made the blanket presentation. The betting public was confused and all inquires about the race were directed to the racing commission.

Richard Crabtree, chairman of the MSHRC, said commissioners received a verbal report at Monday’s commission meeting from Henry Jackson, the MSHRC’s executive director.

“Basically, what Jackson’s report said was that his investigation could not find anything noteworthy in what happened other than it was not handled properly from an administrative point of view,” Crabtree said. “But he could not find anything that would give the commission concern with regard to fraud or anything else.”

In other action, commissioners began the process of changing an emergency rule on blood-gas levels into a permanent rule.

“The rule was set to expire and in order to make it permanent, we had to conduct proceedings and set limits for blood-gas levels,” said Crabtree.

The commission will finalize the rule change at the end of the month.

Also, a request by the Maine Harness Horsemen’s Association concerning eligibility certificates was denied.

“There is very specific criteria by which the MSHRC can enact an emergency rule under the administrative procedures act,” Crabtree said. “The commission has to find that a situation exists that is harmful to the public health and welfare. The commission could not find that in this instance, so we denied it. But we will deal with eligibility certificates in our normal rule-making proceedings this fall.”

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