Saturday, April 19, 2014

The Weekend Is Here

Good morning horse racing peeps.

My email this morning from Racetrackandy (not sure when the man sleeps) said for the Derby, Churchill has: "A ban on laptop computers, cameras with detachable lenses, cameras with attached lenses measuring six inches or more, camcorders and tripods"

Jessica tweets that she thinks that's to protect CDI and NBC broadcast and photo rights. Silly me, I thought someone might be smuggling in "Air Power" or something for the horses in those big lenses.  Regardless, she's probably right. There is no word if Churchill will be banning bettors from the Derby, but as we all have seen, they're trying.

Rich Eng let fly on the CDI takeout increase yesterday in the Las Vegas Review Journal.
  • Churchill has claimed they need the added revenue to keep its purses at their current level. What bean counters gloss over in their projections is they expect overall handle to stay the same. That never happens.
Most of us who care about adding eyeballs to the sport, because eyeballs can mean long-term revenue, don't necessarily automatically disallow any rake hikes. On big days like the Derby, things can be changed. We just want to see some imagination. How about super exotic handle takeout for Derby Day set at 25%? That is not a terrible price with deep fields and super-dumb money. Racing has little imagination. Like Mike Maloney, I have no idea how the horsemen groups bought this stuff.

Is there another industry on earth who is searching for people to patronize them who does more to turn people off patronizing them than horse racing does?

Woodbine handle is taking it on the chin so far this season. In previous years the 5/8's sprint races were filled top to bottom with pretty deep fields of 9, 10, 11 or 12. This season is blah. They will continue to struggle, like most would, with that horse inventory.

I played the Meadowlands last evening. Kudos to the race office there. I mean some of those races were filled with horses that can't do in a ten claimer, but they were exciting enough to bet. I spent 15 minutes on the last race because it was so interesting, despite the fact there was barely a horse that was able to beat 154. If there is a track that does more with less I'd like to meet it.

There was chatter on twitter yesterday about first timers who run without lasix. Those numbers as a whole are terrible, with ROI in the 0.60 range. It's true they, globally, are a bad bet. However, a lot of the time they are longshots anyway, don't have a great work pattern, or just aren't ready. As with any bet that shows a globally bad ROI, you have to adjust and look at the current race to make a decision. I have caught one or two nice priced horses who were overlooked sans "L".

I have been scanning TimeformUS pretty regularly now. Have you tried it? If you have not I respectfully suggest you do. After you get used to it, the ratings, dynamism and ease of use are readily apparent. I will probably write something about it next week if I have some time.

Enjoy the racing today and this evening everyone.  

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Frank's Passion

Oh that Frank!

Yesterday, Frank Stronach and the team came up with an integrity plan for Magna racetracks. I'll let you have a look at it and you can formulate your opinion (if you have not seen it).

Frank is an enigma. He is an excellent businessman, obviously, but at horse racing sometimes we wonder. I have often felt he has not done as well in horse racing because of his passion for horse racing, if that makes sense.

One comment on the link above at the PR kind of mentions it.
  • Mr. Stronach is trying to restore integrity in horse racing. And if anyone wants to view how he treats his own horses, he takes good care of his retirees. None of the horses that he personally owns end up in slaughterhouses. He even has had retired race horses have surgery to make them more comfortable; and I am speaking of geldings and not stallions.
That does not surprise me one bit. If a Magna car parts plant is suffering and production has to be cut, Frank is very capable of doing what has to be done, as much as he may not want to. That's business.

If a horse he owns needs expensive surgery to live comfortably, that might not make "business sense", because after all, everyone tells us "they're not pets". But he does it anyway.

I don't think horse racing is a business to Frank, nor has it ever been. It's a passion. That can get him into trouble sometimes. However, judging from the early reaction of his plan, he has a lot of people hoping he, and his passion, succeeds.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Plenty Going on in Horse Racing

Good morning horse racing friends.

There's a lot going on of late in horse racing, and after an early morning work shift, I took a moment and got caught up......

It rarely surprises me. When a track does something cray cray, a lot of people gripe. But with takeout hikes, the people who gripe are oftentimes the most well-spoken and very smart. I just saw Mike tweet this:
Mike is a bright dude; one of those geeky MBA math types who looks at numbers most of the day. He, along with economists, gamblers and industry analysts like Mike Maloney and Lenny at Equinometry are all on one side. Horsemen groups and a corporation, whose CEO said that horse racing is 'no longer a business model' is on the other. It's not difficult for me to pick a side.

The twitter and social media verse blew up a little yesterday when Asmussen said Tapiture would be ridden by Santana in the Kentucky Derby, if he goes. I don't really know the full story because it's on DRF++++, or whatever it's called. If this colt wins, this will be the only time in history that some in charge of a major TV sporting event would actually hope that after the horse crosses the wire, NBC goes to Heidi.

Mike Maloney - good egg, level-headed and knows racing. He has some excellent thoughts on the Churchill Downs takeout hike on the HANA Web log. I wonder if Mike is right and the Kentucky Racing Commission can step in and do something for the good of the sport. He says he is not optimistic, but who knows.

I think Mike is right one one thing for sure: Some of these horsemen groups have to do more due diligence when they are agreeing to pricing decisions. The aforementioned Lenny over at Equinometry showed what happened in California after their rake hike with a huge deep dive into the numbers. Using google to get information on takeout is not too much to ask.

Todd Pletcher announced Constitution will miss the Derby with a hairline. This is minor stuff; stall rest for a bit and back as good as new probably, but selfishly for bettors, this is better than in previous years when horses like Uncle Mo and Eskenedreya were scratched after everyone handicapped them to be racing. If you remember, I Want Revenge and Esky were scratched very late, and both those horses were favorites.

Speaking of I Want Revenge. It's only been five seasons since the "Air Power Detention barn" debacle on Wood day. I remember the reaction at that time from insiders was muted. If this happened this year, if you think it would be muted, I have a takeout hike to sell ya.

Todd Pletcher had 42 or 43 Triple Crown eligibles. I guess for the Derby he is down to three. 

Good name for Zenyatta's new colt: Ziconic. That fits.

Tweets like this are not uncommon. Jim is an every day player that's been around racing forever.

Larry Collmus starts at Churchill Downs soon, embarking on a dream gig. It's a shame that so many good people who work the trenches at Churchill, get lumped in with bosses decisions they have no control over.

Rusty Nash has a blog going about the National Harness Handicapping Championships this weekend.

Have a super duper Wednesday everyone. 

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

You Either Want Travis Tygart Or You Don't

Good morning everyone.

We'll interrupt our regular coverage of Churchill Downs and their juice hike for a moment. Just go to social media if you want to be kept informed. Or read a Vegas sportbook fellows view about it here.

The Bloodhorse reported today that USADA head Travis Tygart spoke in Lexington, KY yesterday to about 50 horse racing stakeholders about federal legislation and doping. The USADA is one of the organizations that federal horse racing legislation has tabbed for overseeing horse racing.

To readers of the Bloodhorse column, the reaction might be "ho hum, another legislator without teeth". However, I think that would be wrong.

Travis Tygart was the man who brought down Lance Armstrong.
Despite three death threats and Armstrong’s accusations of a witch hunt, Tygart guided a staff that compiled 1,000 pages of evidence and testimony from 26 witnesses, 11 of them former teammates, to bring down the cycling icon.
“We focused solely on finding the truth without being influenced by celebrity or non-celebrity, threats, personal attacks or political pressure because that is what clean athletes deserve and demand,” Tygart said.
I recently read Tyler Hamilton's (world class cyclist and Olympic Gold Medalist) book The Secret Race, and he spoke quite a bit about Travis Tygart.

Tygart may have looked like a coolheaded lawyer, but underneath he was a passionate advocate for the rights of the clean athlete and the importance of changing cycling's win at all costs culture. To let Armstrong walk away with anything less than the required penalty would be a signal that nothing had changed.
When people speak about change in horse racing, some think you are the unabomber, some think lip service is fine because nothing will really happen. Let's face it, this is horse racing; a place where people talk about change but watch nothing happen because an alphabet, or those who yell really loudly, needs to be appeased.

If you are thinking Tygart is a guy who would care about who yells loud, after dealing with Armstrong, his minions and the sport itself, you may be disappointed.
“Clean athletes appreciate us not bowing to political pressure or the personal attacks. If we’re going to cave to attacks by those attempting to cover up their sporting fraud, we might as well shut down,” Tygart told the newspaper.“That would mean we’re afraid and don’t have the courage to support clean athletes. You have to endure those attacks."
So, in my opinion, just from reading a little bit about the man, if you want him in as a leading force for horse racing, expect change and expect lip service to take a back seat.  If you're the rank and file who kind of like the way things are going and hope for tweaks to the system, not big change, you surely don't. And if you're looking for in-between - someone to slog in the bog of the mushy middle, trying to make everyone happy - I think Travis Tygart is probably not your man.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Oh Those Mixed Reactions

Today the Bloodhorse has a story up on the Churchill Downs takeout increase. It's titled "Mixed Reaction to Churchill Takeout Increase"

This is kind of funny, especially since everyone who pays for purses - customers - are one side of the "mixed" reaction. In case you missed it, or ICYMI as the kids say, they think it sucks.

Marty Maline and David Switzer - both horsemen types - well, they think it's okay I guess.

This strikes me as odd, because in no business in the entire universe would that title be used in any article about a price hike.

"Mixed Reaction to Horse Trailer Price Increase." I don't think Marty and David would be too happy about that one on the Bloodhorse and I'm pretty sure the trailer making corporation would not be quoted.

"Mixed Reaction to $100 Price Increase in Adequan", would not be a headline on the Paulick Report tomorrow, with the "mixed" reaction from a drug conglomerate saying "we feel bad for Marty and David but this has to be done so we can make more money. Our stock price depends on it"

"Mixed Reaction to $6 Gas" would not scream a headline in USA Today, because a sheik in Saudi Arabia really likes $6 gas. Even if the purses are upped $100,000 for each race of the Dubai World Cup.

You get the picture.

There is no "mixed reaction" to this from horseplayers for two reasons: 1) They get screwed, just like Marty and David would when the price of Adequan skies and 2) Horseplayers paid attention what happened in California with the takeout hike in 2010, which promised huge purses and revenues that never materialized.

Having said that, there should be no "mixed reaction" anywhere. If you like the sport and want it to grow, you have only one reaction to the Churchill Downs takeout hike: You hate it.

This _______ Will Be the End of Horse Racing!!

I was checking Drudge this morning and came across this headline : "Week of the Blood Moon". I didn't read the whole article, but as far as I can tell, it pretty much says everyone is doomed.

We're doomed in horse racing, too. Just look at the headlines.

The New York Times and the "24 a Week " story. We're doomed.

PETA. We're doomed.

Churchill raising rakes while they build a new giant TV. We're doomed. 

Lasix: Doomed.

Declining foal crops that result in lower field size. Doomerino. 

And of course, one of today's missives: If you want serious reform, you might not be doomed. But maybe you'd be boomed, because you might be the unibomber. 

This - fill in whatever you want - is the end of horse racing.

There's one problem; that's not the way it works. No one issue will sink or swim a business like horse racing. What grows it, or causes it to shrink will be simply done incrementally and its based on the industry's goals, and reactions to said goals.

In Good to Great, business writer Jim Collins speaks about the Hedgehog concept. Top companies who have succeeded - even in horribly tough industries - often have displayed this concept. It's about analyzing what you do well, having a passion for it, and growing incrementally with guiding goal (s). He says it's a battle between the hedgehog and the fox.
  •  “A hedgehog is like a strong consistent fire, whereas the fox is more like a flash fire. Short term the fox looks better, but long term the burning fire still burns with the passionate hedgehog.”
  •  The fox keeps coming up with new ideas to eat the hedgehog, but the hedgehog handily defeats him by doing his one trick: rolling into a thorny ball.
The fox runs horse racing, and he's the main reason it has slowly and surely lost market share.

Need a few dollars right now? The fox wants to raise takeout.

Raceday meds changes? Racedate shrinkage? The fox yells, "we might shrink field size next week at Mountaineer and we need 1,254 racedates to survive. Keep it like it is, we'll work it out."

PETA? "They're nuts", says the fox.

Spend money from slots on lower takeout and marketing? "I am barely scraping by so we can't take a small reduction in a purse," says the fox.

"Those darn ADW pirates! They need to pay more money", the fox tells us.

All of those incremental attacks on customer betting bankrolls, branding of racing, or square peg and round hole economics with foal crop and number of races, are problems that may not be felt in a month, a year or a cycle. But they are felt.

There's no hedgehog worrying about the incremental losses that each of them - among others - bring to the sport. Don't believe me? The main revenue driver for purses - which is the economic driver of the sport, is betting. Can you name five major policy decisions that have been enacted since 2000 to increase betting dollars from gamblers? How about three? Or even one?

There is no one thing that will be the "death of racing"; not Keeneland going to dirt, or lasix or takeout hikes or signal fee hikes, or PETA. But by letting the fox loose in the hen house instead of being guided by a passionate little unassuming hedgehog, each day, each month, each year things get a little slower. It could not happen any other way.