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Horse Racing: Meadows has foreign flavor

Sunday, March 18, 2001

Ladbroke at The Meadows has acquired a distinctly Down Under flavor thanks to a shopping spree by Joseph Muscara, a longtime horseman who made his fortune in construction and real estate.

In the last six months or so, he has spent more than $700,000 buying and importing more than 20 trotters and pacers from New Zealand. The majority of them, all older, overnight rather than young stakes horses, are based at The Meadows with trainer Bob Corey Jr.

There have been New Zealand- and Australian-bred standardbreds racing in the United States for years. You can tell by their names. Once they arrive here, they are required to carry the initial "N" or "A" at the end of their official name.

But they haven't been common at The Meadows until now.

Muscara, who lives in Huntingdon Valley near Philadelphia, said he buys the foreign horses because they are a better financial deal that American-breds. The profitability comes from the huge difference between the U.S. and New Zealand dollars.

"A $100,000 horse down there is $42,000 in U.S. dollars," said Muscara, who is 77 and "semi-retired."

Foreign purchases aren't a new thing for Muscara. He used to train his stable at now demolished Liberty Bell and imported a few horses in the 1970s.

"But then our horses started getting a lot faster. The Meadowlands opened [attracting high-class horses] and the foreign horses couldn't go fast enough," he said.

When he saw the price of American standardbreds going up in the '90s, he tried buying from Canada. But the exchange rate wasn't nearly as good as the one in New Zealand, so he took another look at the breed in the Southern Hemisphere.

"Over the years, they've gotten a lot of our studs down there, so the breeding is better and the horses are better," he said.

Muscara buys these horses sight unseen. He uses the computer to analyze their performances and, occasionally, sees a video tape of a potential purchase.

He has found technology much more useful than the video.

"You get a horse who's eight for 25 and they're going to send you the eight races he won," Muscara said.

"They have a very good computer system down there -- better than ours," he said, referring to harness racing statistical banks. "It's very easy for me to get all the information I need and follow all the races I need to. ... I can find out more about their horses in 10 minutes on the computer than I could in two days here."

He spends a couple hours on the Internet every day, whether he's in Pennsylvania overseeing his commercial leasing business or at his winter home in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

"It doesn't make any difference where I am," he said in a telephone call from his winter home. "I still operate my business on the phone and I've got my computer here. I've got a fax, too. That's another thing that's been very, very helpful. Back in the '70s and '80s to get any paperwork done you had to go air mail. It took a couple weeks. Not it's just a matter of minutes."

Search the barns

A lot of farmers in Amish country are checking the lip tattoos of the retired standardbred mares they've bought off the tracks. That's because someone in the Cleveland area is offering a $10,000 reward for the trotter Linda Claire, who last raced at Ladbroke at The Meadows.

Linda Claire was no great shakes as a racehorse -- she won two races and $8,286. But she is a half-sister of Dream of Joy, an earner of $826,000. That gives Linda Claire real potential as a broodmare.

Local horsemen found the ad in the Amish international newspaper, The Budget. It reads, in part, "I know she is pulling a buggy somewhere, so check your registration papers or tattoo numbers. If you own a standardbred mare, it could be your Lucky Day!"

Form on NBC's dot-com

MSNBCSports.com and Daily Racing Form have reached agreement by which the Form will provide editorial content about thoroughbred horse racing on NBC's Web site.

NBC, which has telecast the Breeders' Cup since its inception, also will begin coverage of the Triple Crown races this spring under a long-term contract.

Pohla Smith can be reached at psmith@post-gazette.com.

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