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Showing posts from February, 2008

Guest Post Friday: The Sphere

Jeff Platt from, a horseplayer and software developer wrote a super-interesting and bang-on post about handicapping. It is entitled "The Sphere". I liked it so much that I asked him if I could post it up for Guest Post Friday's at the blog. He said "sure".

This is a great post. And if you are a horseplayer, or want to be one, it is worth reading, and rereading, and rereading. I read a good deal of handicapping books and articles. I find that I agree with some, disagree with some, but rarely agree 100% with any. This post is an exception. When I feel myself making boneheaded moves, or getting mad at a lost photo, or bad drive/ride, I usually read an article like this, or look at some of my old results, just to get the head back in the game.

I encourage everyone who wants to try to win at racing to read this post. It's good. Perhaps at the end we can get some comments about how you may lose focus, or how you have gone on "tilt" in the past…

Harnesslink Launches a Blogosphere

Our friends at are at it again. They care about racing there, that's for sure, and they are launching a new site to get bloggers energized. From a press release today:

New Media Hopes to Breath Life Into Old Sporting Establishment

Harnesslink has developed a blogging platform appropriately named Harness Racing Blog ( which allows anybody to voice there opinions by creating a blog. A blog is simply an online diary which enables any person to communicate online.

Harnesslink hopes its new initiative will empower supporters and help to spread new ideas in the slow-paced industry.

Once commanding crowds of thousands, in recent years many racetracks have experienced deteriorating visitor numbers, betting and general enthusiasm.

Problems are prolific; competition from other spheres is one major hurdle. Internet poker has pilfered many customers, and marketing successes in comparatively new sports like Nascar have taken their toll.


Drugs, The Real Breeders Cup Classic and The Moon

We have all heard about drugs and racing; as I noted before we are track and field. When a 100 metre winner bolts across the finish line we hear “cheat”, and when a horse does the same, we hear the same. Perception is reality. People in this business are starting to realize it.

Today on the Hill, NTRA President Waltrop was being grilled by congressmen about the use of drugs in the sport. His answers were fairly well received, but a couple of the congressmen pressed on:

Despite those assurances, some lawmakers - including Rep. Ed Whitfield of Kentucky, the top Republican on the subcommittee - argued horse racing lags far behind other sports in dealing with the problem of performance-enhancing drugs.

Whitfield suggested that if the sport doesn't take more aggressive steps to rid itself of steroids, the federal government might mandate the changes.

"Is it time to call the federal cavalry and send it chasing into your stables with guns blazing to clean up the sport of horse racing?&…

Panaramic Art; The NA Cup and Metal Health

Phil from New Jersey has Panaramic Art video’s linked up on his site, along with some commentary. I must admit, I do not follow the Meadowlands as I once did. But horses like this are fun to watch. A good deal of time we hear with horses like this, “wait until the Open horses come back, then he will meet his match!” Sometimes this is true, but with some it is not. Mr. Big last year parlayed his winter successes into an Older Pacer of the Year award. It will be interesting to see how Art does the rest of the year.

Phil has some interesting thoughts and questions on WEG racing below in the comment section of the Barbaro post. If you have any Woodbine tips for Phil, please comment there.

I watched War Pass win this weekend. He is a real beauty. It was a cheap field but he is poetry in motion. You can check the video here if you are interested. Again that got me thinking about our first Classic race in harness racing, the North America Cup. I have heard almost nil from the press about how t…

Recanting Barbaro

It was interesting during the time of Barbaro's shattered leg and his recovery, that people's opinions varied. I had heard many thoughts relating to the fact that the owners were "in it for the money", because the horse surviving could stand at stud. Others spoke about how inhumane it was to keep a horse like that alive. Everyone can have an opinion, but mine was (I'm not one to mince words) that they were full of it.

I always found the owners of Barbaro to have hearts the size of Secretariat's. They cared about that horse. Frankly, who wouldn't care about that horse. We all did. I was sad when he passed on., upon scouring the news like they usually do, came across a good article by Tim Smith. Apparently he wrote a nasty article about the Jackson's around the time of Barbaro's recovery. In a new piece, he recants much of what he said.

I have had a lot of time to reflect on the situation and I do believe I have a newfound respect for wh…

These Guys Just Don't Get It

Some news and views by some, who clearly don't get it. I thought I would share these views so we can all have a laugh.Don't worry, at the end of the piece, I give credit to those that do get it.

Jamaica. Sounds like a decent spot to visit. It seems there is horse racing there. The current head of a horse racing organization there has some ideas, and wrote them in an editorial in a newspaper.

Some snippets:

One study of 24 racing jurisdictions done over 15 years shows conclusively that the profitability of track operations varies inversely with the takeout rate, because a lower takeout rate "stimulates a larger handle of which the track retains a fixed proportion".

That study concluded that at the average takeout rate of 15 per cent track revenues would be 60 per cent greater than if the take out were 20 per cent.

Other studies have shown that a decrease in the price of wagering tends to increase race track attendance and, therefore, "the total amount of dollars avail…

Handicapping: Pulling the Trigger on Value

Well we are at the last part of the series. In part one we looked at why we need to get value. In the second part, we talked about identifying value. This one is about finding and betting your value play.

Where do we find these plays? They could be anywhere, really. Sometimes they are right in front of you. Trainer angles are usually worthwhile. So, let’s find a trainer angle and look at how to recognize it, when to bet it, when not to bet it and when to jump off of it.

Everyone knows Casie Coleman, she was trainer of the year in Canada two years ago, and is a high percentage winner. We will use some of her stats to find an angle (as an exercise) and then make a value betting plan.

We’ll first look at her off claim stats from Dec 1st 2004 to December 1st 2005 at Woodbine. She had 24 fresh claims. She won with only two, and had a horrid UTRS, as well as an ROI of -80%. Unless we want to bet and lose, we should stay away from fresh Casie claims. But we must keep watching, because trainer…

Guest Post: B Track Madness

Well a reader asked a question recently: "Which Canadian B tracks are rated best to bet?". Frankly it is a good question. I know what I like, but I am not slugging away at the B's - betting, grinding, watching replays. But fortunately I know someone who is. So, I asked him if he would write up something and rate the B tracks for betting. Where can we make some scratch? Which tracks are fun to play?

So, we have this weeks guest spot. It is from a good capper, and a buddy. I like that he has some strong opinions. Opinions make the world go round, and we like them here.

Without further delay, here they are: The Ontario B Track Betting Rankings, courtesy Lou. Thanks buddy.

Georgian Downs 83.5

Probably my favourite track to bet, but by no means are they perfect. One thing I cannot stand is their willingness to go head to head with M1 on a Saturday night. By this I mean sending their races off at exactly the same time, which is totally insane from a betting standpoint. If yo…

Handicapping: Odds Lines For Value

Making an odds line might be rudimentary for some, but it is always good to chat about from time to time.

We often hear from new players something like this: "I am going to bet that horse no matter what, because he is a sure winner." Of course that is not correct. If you are getting into a game of coin flipping with someone and he says he will give you 2-1 odds on heads, you are probably a sure winner. If he gives you 1-2 odds on heads, well that is not a bet! The odds determine if a horse is a good bet or not. Not the trainer, not the driver, not the horse. Only the price you are getting.

Each race has an outcome. A winner, and losers. The probability of a race being won by one of the horses is 1.0, or 100%. The horses in the race make up that 100%, each with a lower number. The longshot might have a 2% chance, the even money favorite might have a 50% chance, and so on. All these probabilities must add up to 100%. That is how we make something called a fair odds line.

An exerc…

Sometimes Bad Things Happen

And often times bad things happen to good people.

A friend who is in the business and loves horses, lost a foal today. He and his daughter are broken up about it, like so many in this business would be who love horses.

It's a tough business at the best of times, and it is very tough at the worst.

The mare was turned out in her paddock and had her foal during the day (after we have been watching her all night). When I got home the foal was lying on the snow and was cool with limited vital signs. We took them inside and the vet came promptly. We took the foal into the house and put him in a warm tub and rubbed him all over and manipulated his limbs ... we rubbed him in the tub for about 90 minutes ... everyone was soaking. Gradually his vital signs slipped away. We had no inkling that today would be any different from any other day for the mare. She looked great and heaven help us if we had tried to keep her in. I don't second guess the decision to turn her out. We felt then and n…

Wednesday Wrap

Some quick notes this Wednesday.

Saturated Slots

Pompano Park is cutting purses 35% starting this week, and cutting a few racing dates.

As we have stated on the blog, and I think we are correct in stating it: Gambling dollars are not unlimited. The more casinos that are in play, the less money we have for harness racing. This will only get worse, in my opinion. Slots will never be a long-term fix for this business - never.

Ben, oh Ben

Words from trainer Ben Wallace today in a story at

"We've created a scenario where when young people win a race, he must have cheated," Wallace said this morning. He also went on to say that research can be a dangerous tool in the hand of a regulator.

I am not sure who "we" is. The story says it is the industry itself. Then he speaks of gamblers.

"When a gambler loses his bet, very rarely does he say, 'I made a bad bet.' When an owner gets beat, maybe it wasn't drugs - maybe he bought a bad horse.&q…


I just glanced at the blog and I noticed that this next post (this one) was number 100.

Time flies. I generally do a little reading in the morning or at night and pop a post up. Usually it is one a day. I find it hard to believe we are at a hundred.

I am very surprised that folks seem to be enjoying it, and offering their comments. I honestly expected maybe five or ten hits a day, mostly from friends. I never for a moment thought that only after a couple of months I would get readers from all over the world and that I would make new friends like I have.

Anyhow, thanks for reading and participating. Hopefully we'll get on to the next 100 starting tomorrow!

New York Legislation - My Way has the story on the deal struck in New York about saving the industry. They call it this:

"The result of the Albany lawmakers’ patient cajoling is nothing short of the most significant and beneficial legislative passage harness racing has seen since the original promulgation of video lottery gaming in 2001.

It is hoped that with these new mandates, guideposts and economic incentives and opportunities that harness racing will continue to flourish as not only a significant and lucrative aspect of the state’s economy, but also as an extremely important player on the international harness scene.

No stakeholder can say that we haven’t been given the tools to do it."

I agree that this is a good thing for those tracks. And it seems there is a marketing allowance given to tracks' to try and get new people interested. I encourage everyone to read the harnesslink story as it is quite detailed.

Of course (it would not be a blog if I agreed with everything), I would have…

Cold Stats and Harsh Reality

Steve Crist, Publisher and Columnist for the Daily Racing Form, has been crunching some numbers that are recently released in the Jockey Club Fact book. He notes some interesting facts and figures about the state of racing in North America. It is primarily runners, but since track execs and horseman groups (as well as takeouts and race dates) are not dissimilar, this should be able to apply to harness as well.

I haven’t linked the piece yet (I will do that below). I did that because it’s time for a quiz! Gosh, we all like quizzes :)

1. The USA and Canada have:

a) Twice as many races a year than Great Britain
b) Three times as many
c) Five times as many
d) More than 5 times as many

Answer is d). In the North America (I assuming Canada is grouped in this) 52,000 races take place a year. In the UK the number is 9,000.

2. True or False: The US gives out more dollars in purses than Japan.

Answer: True. The US gave out about $937M in purses, while Japan gave out $719M. But the kicker? Japan raced 18…

Handicapping: You Always Need Value

We often hear the term “value handicapping”. It is generally defined as getting value for your money, or making a bet with a return higher than risk. I don’t really like the term because if you are not getting a higher return than what the board odds are, you should never make a bet.

When I was a grade-school kid, back in the 1970’s, a fellow student came up to me before the Super Bowl between the Dallas Cowboys and Pittsburgh Steelers. He was going on about how good the Cowboys were and how bad the Steelers were. He was a huge Roger Staubach fan. I hated the Steelers with a passion, but I had heard from my cousin that they were 4 and a half point favourites, so I knew they were probably the better team. He asked me, and others to bet the game. I did not really have any money to be betting, but when he wanted to bet just to win (no one really heard of a point spread at that time, certainly not in grade 5), I began to think I better make this bet. I was getting the Steelers straight up…

Ontario Live Track Ratings

Saturday is a day we pop up a lengthy post, usually about something local. Last week we did our new bet, the 4 in 48. I had written that a bit ago. I just checked my inbox and noted that I had rated the Ontario tracks awhile ago, as well, and forgot to post it. Since the 4 in 48 generated some decent discussion, maybe this will, too. What is your favourite Ontario track to lounge around and watch the races at?

You are sitting outside on a summer day. You are enjoying a beer, a hot dog and the racing. Where do you want to be sitting? Which track do you want to be at?

Those questions tend to be, more often than not, a personal preference.

For this piece we are going to rate the tracks in Ontario for live racing, based solely on my opinion. It has nothing to do with simulcasting, or stakes races, or all the rest. It is simply a score for the “fan”, the guy who heads out to the track and wants to enjoy his/her experience - the person who pays the bills.

Those that know the blog now know that…

The Road to the......

Today is guest day on the blog. I have been busy and I have not put the question out to a couple of people I would like to hear from, and no one offered via email, so dang it, we are stuck with me.

Anyone noticing the buzz that thoroughbred Pyro is generating for the Kentucky Derby? Jeremy Plonk has an article on ESPN about it, the chat boards have a Derby 2008 chat flowing, and generally the racing world is stoked for the first Saturday in May. Every track that holds a prep event is of course part of the act, as well, providing cross promotion.

My question is: How can we do that in harness racing?

The first big stakes race for three year olds is the North America Cup at Mohawk. What prep races can be promoted for that race? Since we think outside (sometimes way outside) the box here, what about something like this.

The Burlington Stakes is now run on May 10th and 17th, let's say. Divisions and a final. It is an open event for 3YO's, and the winner earns a birth in the Cup final. …

Less Handle = Less Purses

Even today in some circles we don't hear alarm when talking about handle decreases. "It's ok, we have slots." In this month's Trot Magazine there is a chart that certainly shoots down that theory. I believe it is a subtle nudge to some that we have to start taking handle losses seriously.

On page 34 a chart entitled "Purse Distribution in Canadian Dollars" shows that in 2002 $252.5M was distributed in purses. In 2007, that figure fell to $224.4M, or a 12.5% decrease. This is of course reported in non-inflation adjusted dollars, so the result is much worse.

On the next page we see why this has happened. Pari-mutuel wagering in Canada was $862.9M in 2002. In 2007, it was $553.0M.

Slot money is playing a larger role in purses; but those purses are falling. This is causing the business in this country to recede. Less money for purses equals less owners, less trainers, less grooms, less feed men, less stallions, less mares and so on.

Could anyone imagine if tom…

Inside Information

On the Harness Edge this morning, I see that there is a story up about the BCSA offering their members up for driver and trainer interviews before races.

The BCSA and Fraser Downs hope the Backstretch Minute initiative will allow fans to get to know the trainers and drivers on a personable level rather than just being a name in the race program.

I think this is a good thing, but I would suggest we go one step further and I think this would help us gain fans.

In business, when your company has a stigma attached to it, fairly or unfairly, it is best to attack it. Like it or not, in our industry some bettors think we cheat; or you need to be "in the know" to win. Simulcasting lets us educate fans in many ways, one of which is giving all information out before the race is run, to quell that fear. We do not really do that, though. You and I know that the game has so little cheating in terms of "stiffing" and setting up races, but many fans do not seem to know. Thoroughbre…

When Men Were Men, and Horses were Horses

“I remember one boy from Holland who told us he had come to America to see the Statue of Liberty, the Grand Canyon, and Greyhound.”

Frank Marrion's excellent piece on the Grey Ghost - legendary trotter Greyhound, is up at harnesslink.

In the annals of harness racing history there might not be a more revered figure. Dan Patch is arguably up there and in modern times rugged pacer Cam Fella is a throwback to that time; but I am not sure any of them could eclipse Greyhound in terms of popularity.

It was a time when horses did their talking on the racetrack, not in the breeding shed. And so did their owners. It was the halcyon days of harness racing.

Not only did Greyhound take all comers for seven seasons, he went in different distances, sulkies, and even under saddle. Each race was a new assault on a world record. It did not matter the venue, the track size, the weather, or the machine - he came to play.

This is testimony to the times. Greyhound's owner Colonel Baker was a true sports…

Doc's, Big M Drivers and Ron Paul

Have you ever seen a horse in the post parade that makes you wonder where the track vet is? Well it appears that even human doctors can’t quite get things right, either. Last week in the UK a jockey - after falling from a bolting horse - was pronounced “fit to ride”. One problem: His leg was broken.

The incredible episode occurred at Warwick when jockey Christian Williams took a crashing fall in the opening contest. His mount Allistathebarrista ran out approaching the final fence whilst challenging eventual winner Beat The Boys, smashing through the plastic wing of the obstacle.

Williams was thrown out of the saddle, but was able to walk back to the weighing room where he changed silks and weighed out to take his ride aboard Big Buck's in the Grade 2 Kingmaker Novices' Chase.

However, when Williams was unable to get his swollen foot into the stirrup, the racecourse executive commendably gave connections the opportunity to quickly replace the jockey, and Liam Heard was called up…

Sports Betting to Jersey?

In a recent legislative session the state assembly passed a bill to bring sports gambling to New Jersey. Most believe that the bill (if it passes the Senate) faces an uphill climb, though, as in New Jersey there is a federal ban on the practice.

If passed and made law, this gives Atlantic City casinos an edge on states which now have the one-armed bandits, like New York. The casino lobby is obviously very powerful.

So what’s in it for racing? Well, it appears the usual, a piece of the pie to help purses:

Assembly Gaming Committee chairman and bill sponsor Assemblyman John Burzichelli, D-Cumberland, said he would seek amendments in the Senate version of the bill to allow for racetracks to host sports betting.

I’m pretty sure some people are cheering at that. Hey, why not. It is another form of revenue that racetracks can have to place back into purses. As you know New Jersey is looking for more subsidies, or slots, to help them compete.

Let’s have a closer look at this. How does sports bet…